Nishikori reaches semis, cracks top 10

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori will become the first Japanese to crack the top 10 of the ATP rankings following a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Friday.

The 24-year-old Nishikori is currently 12th in the world, and his previous high was 11th which he reached in June last year. In the WTA, only Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ai Sugiyama have made the top 10, ranking as high as Nos. 4 and 8, respectively.

“I’m happy about it because it’s been a huge goal of mine all along, but it means nothing if I’m there for only a week,” said Nishikori, who will face another Spaniard in David Ferrer in the semifinals.

“I need to be able to stay there over the course of an entire year. It’ll be important to play well consistently to keep my ranking, but it does mean something to have achieved a goal.”

Nishikori had been 2-2 in his career against the big-serving Lopez, whom he managed to break twice. Lopez aced Nishikori nine times, but Nishikori never lost serve in rolling to a straight sets victory.

The Barcelona Open champion needed medical attention in the second set to treat his back, but claimed he would be fine for his next match.

“There was a little pain in my lower back but not enough for me to pull out,” Nishikori said. “I should be OK.

“(Lopez) has a strong service game, but I’m pleased I managed to break him. I took the few opportunities he had. I just wanted to stay aggressive.”

Nishikori beat Ferrer at the Sony Open in March on a hard court, but expects a very different proposition this time.

“He’s a clay-court specialist,” Nishikori said of world No. 5 Ferrer. “He’s at a different level compared to the others in the field, and I’ve got to raise my game a notch if I want to stand a chance.”

Elsewhere, defending champion Rafael Nadal gave his clay-court doldrums a boost by reaching the semis with a dominant performance against Thomas Berdych.

In the women’s tournament, two-time defending champion Serena Williams withdrew with a leg injury, while Maria Sharapova ousted Li Na in the quarterfinals.

The top-ranked Nadal had lost his previous two quarterfinal matches on clay for his worst run on the surface in a decade. But buoyed on by a partisan crowd, Nadal overpowered Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to advance at the Magic Box.

“I brought great energy and intensity to it and that’s the best news, that it’s my best (on clay) yet,” Nadal said. “The things that, historically, I’ve done well on this surface I managed to do them again today.”