Nishikori, Nadal move into Madrid Open quarters

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori pulled out a 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5) victory over eighth-seeded Milos Raonic on Thursday to book a spot in the Madrid Open quarterfinals for the second straight year.

Nishikori and Raonic traded a break en route to a first-set tiebreaker, which Nishikori won with a brilliant backhand winner off Raonic’s serve. After a second set in which neither competitor had a single break chance, the 10th-seeded Nishikori captured another tiebreaker to close Raonic out. The match lasted just over 2 hours.

“It was an intense battle,” Nishikori said. “It was hard to find my rhythm since most of the rallies were short, but I was able to buckle down and win some key points in the tiebreakers.”

In the last eight, Nishikori will play Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, against whom he owns a career 2-2 record. Nishikori won their previous meeting in last year’s Japan Open round of 16.

Lopez advanced when Austrian qualifier Dominic Thiem withdrew before the match due to an unspecified illness. Thiem had upset Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal had little trouble reaching the quarterfinals.

Nadal hadn’t lost a quarterfinal on clay in nine years until last month in Monte Carlo, and he repeated the disappointing feat in Barcelona.

On Thursday, Nadal let a 3-1 lead in the second set slip before beating Jarkko Nieminen of Finland 6-1, 6-4.

“For one hour probably I was playing the best tennis that I played for the last three weeks,” Nadal said. “After that I committed errors, so what I need to do is find more consistency.”

Nadal will next face sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who beat Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Berdych hasn’t beaten Nadal since a 2006 meeting in Madrid, which was marked by jeering and angry exchanges between the players.

“He’ll be a big test for me,” Nadal said. “What happened is in the past. It was one of the few times I had problems inside a court.”

Third seed Andy Murray hit error after error Thursday and was eliminated. The Wimbledon champion was overwhelmed by the 46th-ranked Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-2.

The eighth-ranked Murray mentioned his split from coach Ivan Lendl alongside his “inconsistent” play.

“My coach is missing. That’s quite a big part of my team,” Murray said. “I didn’t envision a finish like that. I need to sit down and think about that the next couple of days and see what I need to do.”

Fifth-ranked David Ferrer contained John Isner’s big serve — holding the American to just six aces — and used a break in each set to win 6-4, 6-4.

In women’s action, Serena Williams earned her 650th career victory with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez Navarro. Williams, in pursuit of her 60th title, hit 27 winners to her Spanish opponent’s five.

“She made me work for every point and it wasn’t an easy win,” the top-ranked American said. “She just won last week, so she is definitely not an easy player to play.”

Williams will next face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova. The fifth-seeded Czech beat Lucie Safarova 6-4, 6-3.

Also, Australian Open champion Li Na and Maria Sharapova will meet in the quarterfinals after both won their third- round matches.

After a poor opening set, the second-ranked Li overcame a slew of unforced errors and a bothersome toe problem to beat Sloane Stephens of the United States 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Sharapova beat Samantha Stosur of Australia 6-4, 6-3, while Ana Ivanovic cruised into the last eight with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

Agassi: Nadal best ever

Singapore AP

Andre Agassi says Rafael Nadal should be considered the greatest tennis player ever, not Roger Federer.

Agassi made the comments in an interview with Singapore newspaper Straits Times, saying Nadal’s achievements are more impressive because he has had to deal with tougher opponents.

Federer has 17 Grand Slam titles to Nadal’s 13, although the Spaniard leads his Swiss rival 23-10 in head-to-head meetings.

Agassi is quoted as saying that “I would put Nadal No. 1, Federer No. 2,” adding that “it’s just remarkable to me what he has done, and he has done it all during Federer’s prime.”

The former No. 1 says “Nadal had to deal with Federer, (Novak) Djokovic, (Andy) Murray in the golden age of tennis. He has done what he has done and he’s not done yet.”