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Nishikori in semis; Nadal falls

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Kei Nishikori of Japan and Ernests Gulbis of Latvia overpowered their opponents to reach the Barcelona Open semifinals on Friday, while top-ranked Rafael Nadal had his 41-match winning streak in the Barcelona ended with a three-set loss to Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals.

Fourth-seeded Nishikori continued his good run since returning from a groin injury with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Marin Cilic of Croatia.

“It was as good a match as I can play,” said Nishikori, who added former French Open champion Michael Chang to his coaching team this year. “I no longer have the sense that I am vulnerable on clay. Recently I’ve been confident (on clay).”

He goes on to play ninth-seeded Gulbis after the Latvian dismissed Teymuraz Gabashvili of Russia 6-1, 6-4.

Gulbis saved all five break points against Gabashvili, who had knocked out fifth-ranked David Ferrer.

Nadal, the eight-time champion, lost 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 to Almagro in a quarterfinal match that lasted 13 minutes short of three hours.

Nadal, who lost in the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals to David Ferrer last week, had last been beaten in Barcelona when he was just 15 years old.

Despite the defeat, 27-year-old Nadal refused to panic with the defense of his French Open crown starting in just a month’s time.

He said losing a tennis match was nothing in comparison to the death of former Barcelona football coach Tito Vilanova who lost his battle with cancer at the age of 45 on Friday.

“To lose is not a drama. What has happened to Tito Vilanova is. We are left with his example and I send my support to his family,” said Nadal. “I was better in parts of the match, but sport is like that. It was my turn to lose and I congratulate Nico.”

Nadal will next defend his Madrid and Rome Masters claycourt titles — two of the 10 tournaments he won in 2013 after a seven-month injury layoff.

He could lose the top spot in the world rankings with Novak Djokovic set to pounce.

“I lacked a bit of intensity at points in the match,” added Nadal. “That is tennis, and now I have to suffer for a bit but keep fighting and think about Madrid.”

Friday’s victory was 28-year-old Almagro’s first over Nadal in 11 meetings, a series which includes a straight sets loss in the 2013 Barcelona final.

Nadal’s last defeat at the tournament came during the second round in 2003 against compatriot Alex Corretja. He skipped the 2004 event because of injuries.

Nadal’s loss of the second set to Almagro on Friday was the first set he had dropped at the Real Club de Tenis since 2008 and ended a run of 44 consecutive sets won.

“Winning the last point I felt happy for all of my team,” said Almagro who broke Nadal three times in the final set.

He had trailed 3-1 in the decider and had been 3-1 down in the second set tiebreaker.

“This victory could mark a turning point in my career,” Almagro said. “It is a victory against the best player in history on this surface.”