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Nishikori battles past Isner, will face Nadal in quarters

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori had to draw on every ounce of his fighting spirit to take a fourth-round victory at the BNP Paribas Open over American John Isner on Wednesday.

The world No. 6 shrugged off a terrible start and saved match point in the third set to take the 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5) win in almost 2 hours, 15 minutes.

“I started really poorly so I didn’t know what to do, but then I gradually got back my usual rhythm and was able to hit out as normal,” said Nishikori after the win.

“In the end I played well, but I was lucky to get two tiebreak (set wins).”

Nishikori played a wild first set, struggling mightily to impose his serve on the match. He converted just 42 percent of his first serves in the opening stanza and won only five of those points — not a recipe for success against a player of Isner’s quality.

The 208-cm world No. 11 American had no such problems as he ran away with the set, breaking Nishikori’s serve twice along the way.

Nishikori, who lost in the fourth-round here last year, turned the match in the second set. He was able to tighten up his serve to hold all six games, sending it to a tiebreaker that he dominated, going up 5-0 and holding on to the lead for a 7-2 win.

“I tried not to be too ambitious with my ground strokes and I won the second set, and from that I became more confident,” Nishikori said.

Isner had served brilliantly throughout the match, finishing with 23 aces, and that was the case in the third set, which also went to a tiebreaker. But in the end Nishikori outlasted his opponent, taking it 7-5.

Nishikori will next face Spain’s 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals. Nadal topped Germany’s Alexander Zverev in three sets in his fourth-round match.

“I know it is going to be a match in conditions that suit him, but I think I am gradually getting back my usual rhythm so I am really looking forward to playing him,” said Nishikori, when asked about his quarterfinal opponent.

Nishikori beat Nadal in straight sets in their previous meeting, in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Masters last year, but that was just his first win in eight attempts against the former world No. 1 Spaniard.

Nadal rallied from a set down and fought off a match point in the third set to beat Alexander Zverev 6-7 (10-8), 6-0, 7-5.

Zverev, an 18-year-old German ranked 58th in the world and in his second full year on the ATP Tour, blew a 5-2 lead in the third when he was serving for the match leading 5-3, 40-30. He made three straight forehand errors to give Nadal the break.

“I am especially happy about the mentality on court, the spirit of fight during the whole match, believing that I can win a match during the whole time even in the tougher situations,” Nadal said.

Novak Djokovic beat Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-3 to stay on track for a potential semifinal against Nishikori.

“I’m actually glad to have a match like this with not much complications,” said Djokovic, who was pressed in his first two wins.

Serena Williams beat defending champion Simona Halep 6-4, 6-3, punctuating the victory with her seventh ace. Halep has lost to Williams six of the seven times they’ve played and the Romanian has yet to successfully defend a title in her career.

Williams advanced to the semifinals, where she will play Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated Petra Kvitova 6-2, 7-6 (7-3). Radwanska will move up to No. 2 behind Williams in next week’s WTA Tour rankings based on making the semis.

“It’s unfortunate it can’t be a final,” Williams said.