Miami: Ferrer d. Nishikori

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Bending shots into the corners with such devious spin that the ball darted into the doubles alleys, David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori raised the stakes in a series of sideline-to-sideline sprints. The longest exchange of the match escalated into a 37-shot slugfest when Nishikori, eager to end the rally and the running, tried to drive his forehand down the line, only to find the net.

The physicality of that lost break point caused Nishikori to drop into a discouraged crouch and stare down at the court like a marathon runner seeking a reprieve from the race. It also summed up the punishing challenge Ferrer posed: Nishikori expended energy and invested creativity into some electric rallies in trying to gain ground, but Ferrer was a half step faster and one shot better when it mattered most.

The fifth-ranked Ferrer drained Nishikori’s strength and desire, winning seven of the last nine games to roll into this third straight Miami Masters quarterfinal with a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

The 23-year-old Japanese is seven years younger than the feisty Spaniard, but Ferrer is so fit that his idea of a fun day off is running wind sprints with coach Javier Piles. Ferrer looks empowered by physical stress, while Nishikori endures it.

The fifth-ranked Spaniard burst out of the blocks quickly, capitalizing on successive backhand errors to break for a 2-0 lead. Whipping his topspin backhand cross-court with a bit of sidespin, Nishikori opened some angles to push Ferrer to deuce for the second straight service game. But Ferrer changed the pattern, hitting his first backhand winner down the line and following with a laced forehand down the line that dotted the baseline to hold for 5-2.

Serving at set point, Ferrer double faulted. During an extended rally in the ensuing point, Ferrer was in control and struck a shot off the baseline. The linesman initially called it out, but immediately corrected himself. They replayed the point and Nishikori knifed a backhand winner down the line before breaking back for 4-5, leaving an incensed Ferrer requesting for the linesman’s removal on the ensuing changeover.

“I want a change please,” Ferrer told the chair umpire. “Yes, it was a mistake, but a big mistake.”

Ferrer’s frustration was understandable given the gravity of the point, though replay showed the ball caught the very back edge of the line. It was a crucial call that could send even an experienced player over the edge, but Ferrer channeled his anger into action, firing a forehand winner for his fourth set point before cracking a deep return to take the first set in 48 minutes.

Nishikori can be a flashy shotmaker whose drives dance near the lines, but Ferrer is a highly-disciplined player who gives nothing away. The depth of his drives combined with his relentlessness can make a best-of-three-set match feel like a battle of attrition for opponents. Even his primal grunts seemed to grow stronger as the match progressed.

In the aftermath of that demanding 37-shot rally that gave him a 3-1 second-set lead, Ferrer dropped just two points on serve in stretching his lead to 5-2. A disconsolate Nishikori double faulted on match point, ending the one hour, 21-minute match. Ferrer, who leads the ATP in wins with a 23-4 record on the season, will play Jurgen Melzer for a semifinal spot.

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