Fourth seed Rafael Nadal survived a few anxious moments before booking his place in the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Japan’s Kei Nishikori in California on Friday.
The Spanish left-hander fought back from 1-3 down and 15-40 on serve in the opening set, then held off a late fightback by Nishikori in the second to prevail after a little more than an hour and a half at the sun-baked Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
Nadal, a three-time champion at Indian Wells, will next meet top-seeded Novak Djokovic after the Serb overcame No.7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an entertaining quarterfinal.
Tsonga staved off a pair of match points with daring play in the 10th game, firing two jaw-dropping forehand winners to remain alive.
But Djokovic, typically solid, steadied the ship in the tiebreak and never looked in doubt.
In defeating Tsonga, Djokovic improved his 2016 record to 20-1.
Nadal, who has not beaten Djokovic in almost two years and who has lost his last five matches against the Serb, reflected on his confidence-boosting quarterfinal victory.
“The first set was very important,” Nadal said in a courtside interview with ESPN after improving his career record against Nishikori to 8-1.
“At 15-40 for one double break for him, that was the key moment and after that I started to play with higher balls, slower balls. I changed a little bit the rhythm of the match and I think I played well.”
After levelling at 4-4 in the first set, Nadal won the next five games to take command before his fifth-seeded opponent clawed his way back with a break in the seventh to trail 3-4.
Nadal, however, immediately regained his advantage in the eighth game after Nishikori netted a backhand, and the Spaniard served out the match, with the final blow a trademark forehand winner down the line.
“The serve was great today,” Nadal said of his impressive first serve percentage of 88 per cent.
Nishikori, who won his 11th ATP World Tour title in Memphis last month, had beaten Nadal in straight sets when they last met, in Montreal last year.
The second semifinal at Indian Wells will be contested by Belgian David Goffin and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who each won their matches in the last eight on Thursday.
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