Streaking Nishikori to battle Nadal in Madrid Open final

Kyodo, AP, Reuters

Kei Nishikori reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final by edging world No. 5 David Ferrer at the Madrid Open on Saturday night.

It took just under three hours on court but 12th-ranked Nishikori came through with a 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-3 win and will look to crown a career-defining week Sunday when he faces world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the final at the Caja Magica.

“My returns were good,” said Nishikori, whose win on Friday over Spain’s Feliciano Lopez means he is set to become the first Japanese player to crack the top 10 of the ATP rankings.

“In the past I didn’t go for points aggressively against players ranked inside the top 10 and I think that (strong returns) is the reason why I am winning on clay too.”

The 24-year-old Nishikori fought back from a 5-2 deficit to take the first set.

Ferrer denied Nishikori a straight-sets win with an ace down the middle, though, and then converted his fifth break point in the second set to level the match.

But Nishikori broke the Spaniard in the sixth game of the second third set before pulling away.

Nishikori smashed error after error with victory in his grasp as the local fans backed Ferrer, who ultimately hit long for the 10th seed Nishikori to earn his 14th straight win, including a perfect 10-0 on clay.

“It’s (all) a little bit (of a) surprise,” said Nishikori. “(Nadal’s) the king of the clay, so hopefully I can hang in there and try to play another good match.”

Nadal continued his serene progress in pursuit of consecutive Madrid Open crowns when he swept past Spanish compatriot Roberto Bautista 6-4 6-3.

Nadal, chasing a 63rd career title and a 44th on clay, has not been in top form on his favored surface this year, suffering surprise defeats in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

However, he has shown glimpses of his dominant best in front of adoring fans in the Spanish capital, where he is yet to drop a set, as he warms up for a tilt at a record-extending ninth French Open title starting at the end of the month.

Nadal’s victory against the unheralded Bautista ended the world No. 45’s best run at a Masters event.

Nadal, who has beaten Nishikori in all six of their meetings, said his semifinal performance against Bautista was further confirmation of his improving form after Friday’s fine win against sixth-ranked Czech Tomas Berdych in the last eight.

“After I think a great match yesterday, to have the confirmation today that the improvement is real is very good news for me,” Nadal told a news conference.

“And being in a final here in a difficult tournament at home after losing two weeks in a row in the quarterfinals means a lot to me,” added the 27-year-old Majorcan, who was also champion in Madrid in 2010 and in 2005 when it was an indoor hard court event.

Nadal’s concentration dipped temporarily in the second set as Bautista Agut clawed to within 4-3 before Nadal overcame his 21 errors by pulling away to reach his 90th career final.

“Psychologically speaking about Monte Carlo and Barcelona, whenever I had nerves, I was not ready and I was a little bit down,” said Nadal, bidding to be the first repeat winner in his sixth final appearance.

“I am mentally more stable and more confident things will go well,” he said.

Earlier, Maria Sharapova held her nerve to reach her second consecutive women’s final, where she will play Simona Halep of Romania.

Sharapova was cruising against Agnieszka Radwanska before allowing the third-seeded Pole to break back in the second set. But the eighth-ranked Russian recovered to secure a 6-1, 6-4 win after Halep rallied in the hot conditions to dispatch 2011 champion Petra Kvitova 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-2.