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 either top-seeded Serb Novak Djokovic or Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who were playing their quarter-final later on Friday.
“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 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.