INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA – World No. 6 Kei Nishikori fell short against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals at the BNP Paribas Open on Friday, losing in straight sets 6-4, 6-3.
“I had my chances, but my mistakes were decisive,” Nishikori said. “My forehand was really good at the start. Nadal’s first-serve accuracy was so good, I wasn’t able to attack from my returns.”
Nadal, ranked and seeded fifth, will face world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. Djokovic knocked off Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-2) in their quarterfinal.
Djokovic crushed Nadal 6-1, 6-2 to win the Qatar Open in January in one of the most lopsided matches in their long rivalry, which Djokovic leads 24-23.
Nadal connected on 89 percent of his first serves against Nishikori in a contest played in 32 C heat under a relentless sun.
“(Nishikori) started so quickly, hitting all the balls very well and serving great,” Nadal said, according to the ATP Tour website. “Then he started to miss some first serves, and I returned his second serves aggressively. That was so important in the development of the match.”
Nishikori was first to break serve, and led 3-1 with a double break point. But Nadal hung on to hold serve and Nishikori’s shots and serves became erratic.
“That was the most frustrating thing, those points,” Nishikori said. “If I had gone up 4-1, I think the match unfolds differently.
“Little by little, he began hitting the ball deeper and that changed things.”
Nishikori gave up a key break and fell behind 5-4 on the way to losing the opening set.
After Nadal, a three-time former champion here, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set, Nishikori traded breaks with the former world No. 1 Spaniard but failed to catch up. Nadal held serve for the win in 1 hour, 33 minutes.
In his nine career meetings against the 14-time Grand Slam champion, Nishikori has prevailed only once, in last year’s Montreal Masters.
His quarterfinal showing at Indian Wells marks his career-best result in the tournament, that has troubled him. Nishikori was halted by Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in the round of 16 last year.
“It wasn’t a bad run,” Nishikori said. “I felt that it was the first time I had played well here.”
In women’s action, Serena Williams rallied after squandering a 3-0 lead in the second set to beat Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) and reach the final for the first time since 2001, when she won and then boycotted the event for 14 years.
Williams hit 41 winners and had 29 unforced errors to 18 winners and just 10 unforced errors by Radwanska, who fell to 0-10 in her career against the world’s top-ranked player.
Radwanska had chances to break Williams in the fifth and seventh games of the first set, when she led 3-1. But Williams earned breaks in two of the last three games to take the set, smacking a forehand winner off Radwanska’s second serve on the last point.
Victoria Azarenka defeated Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-1), 1-6, 6-2 in the other women’s semifinal.