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Nishikori books Rome semifinal against Djokovic

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori defeated Dominic Thiem of Austria 6-3, 7-5 at the Italian Open on Friday to set up a semifinal match against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

The 15th-ranked Thiem grabbed an early 3-1 lead, but Nishikori soon took control, reeling off five games in a row to secure the opening set.

“I played with patience, but he was a tough opponent. I was able to pressure him by playing the ball deep, which pushed him into mistakes,” said the Shimane native.

“He hits very heavy on both wings, great backhands. Not many weaknesses. It was really a battle of groundstrokes from the baseline.”

“At the moment I’m playing really well. I returned well.”

World No. 6 Nishikori managed a key break late in the second set to go up 6-5. He held serve for the win as Thiem’s backhand sailed wide at the 1 hour, 39 minute mark.

Djokovic made it to this year’s semifinals by defeating Rafael Nadal 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) earlier in the day.

In 10 career matches against the top-ranked Serbian, Nishikori has emerged victorious twice — in Basel, Switzerland, in 2011 and en route to the U.S. Open final in 2014 — but has come up short in their last six consecutive meetings.

“I have a chance,” said Nishikori of his meeting with Djokovic. “If my physical fitness holds up I can play with a possibility to get the win.

“(My leg) is a bit sore but I’ll be okay. I will try to recover well tonight.”

Misaki Doi missed out on her first semifinal berth after going down 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) in the quarterfinals against Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.

Doi, ranked 45th in the world, saw Begu take initiative as her fellow 25-year-old varied the pace in rallies to good effect. Doi lacked accuracy under strong winds and dropped the first set, and was narrowly edged in the second although she fought back with her favorite forehands to take it to tie break.

“I couldn’t carry out my own game plan. I had a big chance in the second set, but it was regrettable that I failed to take advantage of it,” Doi said.

“I feel the sting of defeat, but I am sure this will turn out to be useful in the next match. This tournament made me feel confident ahead of the French Open,” she said.

Doi stunned last year’s French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic in the second round with a straight-set win before overcoming Australian Open semifinalist Johanna Konta of Britain on Thursday, and looks certain to be named among the members for this summer’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Djokovic was helped by Nadal wasting five set points in the second set as he extended his recent mastery over the Spaniard.

Djokovic has won the last seven of their 49 encounters, the most in the Open Era. Overall, Djokovic leads the series 26-23.

This was their last opportunity to play each other before the French Open, which starts in nine days.

In the other half of the draw, Andy Murray overcame some trouble on his service games to beat David Goffin 6-1, 7-5 and improve his record on clay this year and last to 27-3.

“I’m getting rewarded now for the work that I put in over the years on this surface,” Murray said. “I deserve it because I have worked hard for it.”

Murray’s semifinal opponent will be French qualifier Lucas Pouille, who advanced when Argentine opponent Juan Monaco withdrew because of injury.