Top-ranked Rafael Nadal made it to his second straight clay-court final at the Mutua Madrid Open, where Japan’s Kei Nishikori denied an all-Spanish clash by converting his 10th match point in a grueling victory over David Ferrer on Saturday.
Defending champion Nadal defeated countryman Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4 to reach his first clay-court final since triumphing in Rio de Janeiro in February.
At the Caja Magica in Madrid, Ferrer saved nine match points before Nishikori ultimately overcame his late nerves to seal a 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3 victory that propelled him into his first Masters series final.
Earlier, Maria Sharapova held her nerve to reach her second consecutive women’s final, where she will play Simona Halep of Romania.
After Nishikori won the first set, Ferrer fired an ace to save his first match point in the 10th game, then broke Nishikori on the fifth try one game later. Ferrer took it to a third set after saving two break points.
Despite needing treatment on his right thigh before the start of the deciding set, Nishikori’s powerful groundstrokes overwhelmed Ferrer for a key break in the sixth game. There was a dramatic ninth game that lasted nearly 20 minutes.
Nishikori smashed error after error with victory in his grasp as the home crowd cheered Ferrer, who ultimately hit long for the 12th-ranked Nishikori to earn his 14th straight win, including a perfect 10-0 on clay.
“It’s [all] a little bit [of a] surprise,” said Nishikori, who will become the first Japanese man to break the top 10 in the new ATP rankings today. “[Nadal’s] the king of the clay, so hopefully I can hang in there and try to play another good match.”
Playing in his first career Masters series semi-final, Bautista Agut could not match the experience of Nadal, who keeps improving after coming to the Caja Magica having lost at consecutive clay tournaments for the first time in a decade.
The defending champ took advantage of Bautista Agut’s timid start to break right away for a lead he would never surrender.
Nadal’s concentration dipped temporarily in the second set as Bautista Agut clawed his way to within 4-3 before Nadal overcame his 21 errors by pulling away to reach his 90th career final.
“Psychologically speaking about Monte Carlo and Barcelona, whenever I had nerves, I was not ready and I was a little bit down,” said Nadal, who is bidding to be the first repeat winner in his sixth final appearance. “I am mentally more stable and more confident things will go well.”
On the women’s side, Sharapova was cruising against Agnieszka Radwanska before allowing the third-seeded Pole to break back in the second set. Yet the eighth-ranked Russian recovered to secure a 6-1, 6-4 win after Halep rallied in the hot conditions to dispatch 2011 champion Petra Kvitova 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-2.
Sharapova has lost just three times on clay since the 2011 French Open, all against two-time defending champion Serena Williams, who withdrew on Friday with an injury.
Kvitova looked on course for victory before unforced errors and the rising temperatures took their toll.
The Czech was 2-0 up in the second set and rolling against Halep, who was visibly frustrated after a late call went against her during the first-set tiebreaker.
However, Kvitova then hit 66 unforced errors and that inconsistency caught up with her as Halep recovered, with the now composed Romanian hitting 22 winners and breaking Kvitova four times over the last two sets.