There are some weeks on the ATP tour when a player inexplicably squeezes through the draw, defies the odds and progresses against all logic. Kei Nishikori is having one of those weeks, saving multiple match points against David Ferrer in his fourth round match, the Japanese appeared to be on borrowed time against Roger Federer tonight.
Despite being a set and a break down on two occasions, Nishikori condemned Federer to his second straight defeat against the Japanese star, following a three set win in Madrid last year. The result ought to take the gloss of an encouraging start to the season for the Swiss master, and he will be particularly disappointed having outclassed Nishikori for most of this quarterfinal encounter.
Nishikori's steely determination may have ultimately secured him a place amongst the final four, but he will be grateful that the 32-year-old was responsible for producing a woeful service display throughout.
A more clinical Federer performance would have consolidated either of the two breaks he was able to carve out in the second set, but each time he proceeded to tamely concede the break immediately.
As the third set wore on, Nishikori becoming more enterprising, exploiting Federer's backhand inconsistencies, whilst engaging his penetrative forehand with more swagger.
In truth, it is a match in which he was by far the weaker player for a large proportion, but has managed to pull through yet another closely-fought encounter. Put simply, Nishikori's powers of escape are akin to those of Houdini.
Federer will be discouraged by his inability to remain consistent, and perhaps the successes in Dubai and Indian Wells have eroded his fitness in the short term. Nishikori showed no signs of his physical battle against Ferrer, and will be most grateful that this match was the night session.
Given that Djokovic and Murray played in the searing heat, Nishikori is fortunate he was afforded the much cooler night conditions.
Nishikori will now face Djokovic for a place in the final on Friday, with the Serb buoyed by his recent win in Indian Wells, which has elevated his game this week.
Nishikori may find that hia luck will finally run out when he locks horns with the world number two. Djokovic will be in no mood to examine whether the Japanese underdog can wriggle off the hook for a third time.
Federer will now focus his efforts on Switzerland's Davis Cup match against Kazakhstan, where he will join forces with Stan Wawrinka in Geneva. He is not scheduled to return to the ATP tour until the Madrid Open in early May, as he is unlikely to entertain any wild-card offer to compete in the first clay court Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo, starting on April 13.
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