March 19: Nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic eased through their Indian Wells matches in straight sets Friday to set up a semi-final showdown worthy of a title clash.
World number five Nadal survived an early assault to defeat Japan`s Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the joint ATP and WTA Tour hardcourt tournament in the California desert.
The Nadal-Nishikori contest kicked off a star-studded pair of Indian Wells quarter-finals on Friday featuring four of the world`s top 10 players.
Nadal next faces Djokovic who defeated ninth ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, of France, 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/2).
“I beat a top 10 player and that is something that is important for my confidence,” Nadal said after the win over Nishikori, ranked sixth in the world.
“Tomorrow is another opportunity for me to play against another top player.”
The swashbuckling Spaniard is looking for another stamp in his championship passport, having already won Indian Wells in 2007, 2009 and 2013 while Djokovic is going for a record fifth crown.
Nadal is also hoping to put to bed speculation that his career is on a downward spiral. He has won 14 Grand Slam titles but none in the past 18 months.
“I feel I am strong mentally and I have the right energy,” Nadal said. “I am able to fight for every ball and I now believe in myself the whole match.”
Nadal had just two aces but he took care of his serve Friday by winning 62 percent of his first-serve points. He broke Nishikori four times.
He closed out the 93-minute match with a forehand down the line that Nishikori stumbled after but came nowhere near getting a racquet on.
“He started so quickly,” Nadal said of Nishikori. “Then he started to miss some of his first serves and I was returning his second serve so well.”
Nadal improved to 8-1 lifetime against Nishikori and avenged a loss in their most recent meeting last year at Montreal.
Nadal and Djokovic are nearly even in their 47 head-to-head meetings, with the Serb owning a 24-23 edge.
Nadal knows it is not wise to bet against Djokovic and if anyone else wins the Indian Wells title it would be a big surprise.
“He`s a clear favourite because he`s winning all the matches almost every time,” Nadal said of Djokovic.
Two-time defending champion Djokovic has already won twice this year including the Australian Open.He is hoping to use Indian Wells as a stepping stone to winning his first French Open in two months and complete the career Grand Slam.
Djokovic has had a distinct advantage against Nadal, coming out victorious in nine of their last 10 matches.
Djokovic blasted two aces, 18 winners and had four double faults in the two hour, six minute match Friday.
Tsonga had seven double faults and had his serve broken twice as his magic run this week came to a grinding halt under the 34 degree Celsius (93F) heat in the main stadium.
No Frenchman has reached the semis here since Guy Forget played Jim Courier in the final four in 1991.