Fourth seed Rafael Nadal survived a few anxious moments before booking his place in the semi-finals 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 Serb Novak Djokovic, who defeated Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-2) in their quarter-final.
“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.
In defeating Tsonga, Djokovic improved his 2016 record to 20-1.
The world No.1 capitalised on a slew of errors by Tsonga in the first tiebreak.
The Serb led 3-1 when Tsonga reeled off three straight errors, including two off his forehand that extended Djokovic’s lead to 6-1. Tsonga was serving to stay in the tiebreak down 6-2, but he netted a backhand to lose it.
Djokovic led 5-4 in the second set and had two match points on Tsonga’s serve in the 10th game but the Frenchman pulled out a big serve to hold at 5-5.
Tsonga came up with another key hold to force the final set into a tiebreak that Djokovic again dominated .
The second semi-final 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.