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Rediff.com  » Sports » Indian Wells: Nadal to face Djokovic in semis; Serena cruises into final

Indian Wells: Nadal to face Djokovic in semis; Serena cruises into final

March 19, 2016 11:48 IST

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates defeating Kei Nishikori of Japan during day twelve of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden

IMAGE: Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Japan's Kei Nishikori in the quarters of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California, on Friday. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Fourth seed Rafael Nadal survived a few anxious moments before booking his place in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open with a see-sawing 6-4, 6-3 victory over Japanese Kei Nishikori at Indian Wells in California on Friday.

The Spanish left-hander, a three-times champion at Indian Wells, will next meet top-seeded Serb Novak Djokovic, who battled past Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(2), 7-6(2) in the last of the quarter-finals.

Djokovic, the world number one and defending champion, improved his stellar record for the year to 20-1 as he seeks a fifth title at Indian Wells.

Nadal fought back from 1-3 down and 15-40 on serve in the opening set, then held off a late fightback by Nishikori in the second to prevail after a little more than an hour and a half at the sun-baked IndianWellsTennisGarden.

Rafael Nadal plays a forehand return during his quarter-final against Kei Nishikori

IMAGE: Rafael Nadal plays a forehand return during his quarter-final against Kei Nishikori. Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

"The first set was very important," 14-times grand slam winner Nadal said in a courtside interview with ESPN.

"At 15-40 for one double break for him, that was the key moment and after that I started to play with higher balls, slower balls.

"I changed a little bit the rhythm of the match and I think I played well."

After levelling at 4-4 in the first set, Nadal won the next five games to take command before his fifth-seeded opponent clawed his way back with a break in the seventh to trail 3-4.

Nadal, however, immediately regained his advantage in the eighth game after Nishikori netted a backhand, and the Spaniard served out for the victory, ending the match with a forehand winner down the line.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic during his quarter-final match against France's Jo-Wilfred Tsonga

IMAGE: Serbia's Novak Djokovic during his quarter-final match against France's Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Djokovic delivered his usual blend of brilliant defence and precise shot-making to wear down an error-prone Tsonga in a match that lasted just over two hours.

The Serb failed to close out the first set when he served at 5-4, but dominated the tie-break as the Frenchman paid the price for a typically high-risk strategy.

Though Tsonga broke Djokovic in the third game of the second set, the Serb immediately levelled at 2-2 before going on to lead 5-4.

The Frenchman saved two match points in the 10th game with booming forehands to take the set into another tie-break but again lost momentum with erratic play and the match ended when he blasted a forehand service return wide.

"The experience, the self-belief and knowing that I have done it before ... helps to get the engines going," said Djokovic, who benefited from Tsonga's 47 unforced errors.

"I really try to do well in the moments when the match is going to be decided."

The second semi-final at Indian Wells on Saturday will be contested by Belgian David Goffin and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, who won their matches in the last eight on Thursday to advance.

Serena Williams shakes hands with Agnieszka Radwanska after their semi-final match 

IMAGE: Serena Williams shakes hands with Agnieszka Radwanska after their semi-final match. Photograph: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Serena Williams overcame a sluggish start to forge past Agnieszka Radwanska and move into the final of the BNP Paribas Open with a 6-4, 7-6(1) victory on Friday.

The world number one was 4-2 down in the opening set and not moving freely in their semi-final at Indian Wells, before the American began to find her rhythm to claim four straight games and control of the battle.

Williams continued her run in the second set to win the opening three games before her Polish opponent fought back.

Radwanska displayed the kind of tennis that will see her rise to number two in the world rankings on Monday, rallying to win the next three games to get the set back on serve.

The Pole even had a chance to win just her second career set against Williams when she broke the American to lead 6-5, but could not close out on serve.

Williams then snuffed out any hopes Radwanska had of claiming a first victory against the American, winning seven straight points to take the tiebreaker 7-1 and improve to 10-0 in their head-to-head battles.

Williams improved to 23-1 at Indian Wells, where she won in 1999 and 2001, before taking a self-imposed 14-year exile from the event amidst allegations of racial abuse from fans after sister Venus withdrew minutes before their semi-final showdown.

Some 15 years later, she is feeling the love.

"I had a lot of support, I heard a lot of 'Go Serena's' and that was kind of cool," Williams added.

"This year has been great. It feels so great to be supported. It's been a great comeback here in Indian Wells, so I'm excited about that."

Williams will play the winner of the second semi-final between Victoria Azarenka and Karolina Pliskova. 

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