Kei Nishikori’s hopes of defending his Rakuten Open title were wrecked Friday as the ace was beaten in three sets by sixth-seeded Spaniard Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals.
No. 4 seed Nishikori, who beat Milos Raonic in last year’s final to become the first Japanese man to win the tournament since it joined the ATP Tour in 1973, battled bravely after dropping the first set, but struggling with a sore lower back, succumbed 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-3 at Ariake Colosseum.
“I hurt my back and towards the end it got to the point that I could not get back (in position) after I hit the ball,” said Nishikori.
“I’d like to say I did well under the circumstances, but results are what matter.
“I have had problems with my back for the last four or five years. I have hurt it again but it can’t be helped. I think I have done well to get this far.”
Almagro, who lost his only previous meeting with Nishikori in the 2011 Kuala Lumpur quarterfinals, will face either top seed Juan Martin del Potro, who overcame Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the semifinals.
Del Potro took control when he broke Dolgopolov to go up 3-1 in the third set and then broke him again in the final game.
“Everything today was difficult,” del Potro said. “At the beginning of the match, I hit my forehand well and he was always able to return it. I was still fighting and broke him in the second set and that gave me confidence for the third set.”
Backed by a partisan crowd, Nishikori broke Almagro twice to race into a 4-1 lead in the first set, only to allow the Spaniard to fight back and win the tiebreak after putting a return into the net.
Nishikori battled back and won the second set with a two-handed backhand down the line that Almagro could not deal with.
Nishikori, who took a medical timeout for a back massage leading 2-1 in the third set, could not hold his lead, though, and Almagro sealed the win and pumped his fists in delight after Nishikori sliced into the net.
“He (Nishikori) lost set point in the first set and I played really aggressive after that. After that, the match was amazing and I am very happy, because I did a really good job today,” said Almagro. “It was sushi power.”
Third seed Raonic powered his way into the semis with a routine victory over Slovak lucky loser Lukas Lacko.
The big-serving Canadian won 6-3, 6-3, booking a meeting with Ivan Dodig in the semis.
“I felt like I started off well and got into a service game right away and that allowed me to get into the match and start serving well,” said Raonic, who had 11 aces.
In the day’s first quarterfinal on center court, Croatian Dodig beat Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), avenging a five-set defeat at the Australian Open this year.
He had reached the last eight after upsetting No. 2 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday and is in the semis here for the first time.
Rafael Nadal kept alive his hopes of wresting the top ranking from Novak Djokovic by rallying for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over Fabio Fognini of Italy in the quarterfinals of the China Open on Friday.
Nadal needs to reach the final here to displace Djokovic after 100 weeks at the top of the ATP ranking list. He was down a set and a break but changed the tempo of the match with a timely service break.
The Spaniard seemed to struggle at times with a nagging left knee injury, but wore down Fognini after that hard-fought service break in the seventh game of the second set.
It was the third straight victory over Fognini for Nadal, who next plays the winner of the quarterfinal match between American John Isner and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Nole, Roddick had row
Andy Roddick said he once pinned current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic up against a locker in the U.S. Open dressing room after Djokovic “beat the pants off him” in a match between the two at the final major tournament of the season.
Roddick, 31, did not say what year the incident happened but the two had a very public dispute during the 2008 U.S. Open in New York.
“I won’t say his name, I’ll just say it rhymes with ‘Schmovak Schmokovic’ ” Roddick said on a panel discussion on the Fox Sports 1 television network.
“We got into it at the U.S. Open one time,” Roddick continued. “I was kind of talking trash and he came out and beat the pants off of me as he would.
“But then he kind of chirped afterward and he came straight in, I went right up to him and had him up against the locker, but then I realized his trainer was a little bit bigger.”
Roddick, who retired in September after the U.S. Open, said he stopped when he realized the confrontation might escalate.
“I kind of checked myself. My trainer is about 5-8 (172 cm), 130 (59 kg) . . . I kind of backed off real quick. I was about to get railroaded from the side.”
Roddick is a former world No. 1 whose only major title came at the 2003 U.S. Open.
Serbia’s Djokovic, who is one of the most well-liked players on the ATP Tour, has won seven Grand Slam titles, including four Australian Open crowns.
Hewitt case delayed
BOKSBURG SOUTH AFRICA
The rape and sexual assault case against Grand Slam doubles champion Bob Hewitt has been postponed until next year while South Africa’s public prosecutor brings an application to have the charges against the former Hall of Famer centralized so they can be heard in the same court.