World No. 1 Novak Djokovic will face Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster semifinal at the BNP Paribas Open after defeating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(2), 7-6(2) on Friday in Indian Wells.
Earlier in the day, Nadal was a 6-4, 6-3 winner over Kei Nishikori.
Djokovic and Nadal will meet for the 48th time, with Djokovic leading their head-to-head 24-23. The Serb has won nine of their past 10 meetings, with Nadal’s only victory in that spell coming in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
This will be the fourth time the pair has met at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Nadal won their first battle in the 2007 final, but Djokovic since beat the Spaniard in the 2008 semifinals and the 2011 final.
“He’s a great competitor, a great fighter,” said Djokovic. “He’s been getting himself out of trouble a few times this week and showing why he’s one of the best players in the history of the game.
“He never gives up. He always makes you play an extra shot. Always makes you earn the win. I’m going into tomorrow’s match knowing what’s expected of me and I know how to get ready.
“I won the past couple of times we played against each other, so maybe that can give me a slight mental advantage coming into the court. But everything is open. It’s the semifinals. We both have won multiple titles here and hopefully we can come up with some good tennis. I’m hoping I can deliver my best game tomorrow.”
The 28-year-old Djokovic is bidding to reach the final of this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament for the sixth time. In addition to his runner-up showing against Nadal in 2007, the Serb lifted the trophy in 2008, 2011, 2014 and 2015.
Djokovic notched his 20th win of the season (20-1 record) as he defeated Tsonga in two hours and six minutes. But the right-hander did not have it all his own way against the Frenchman in their 21st meeting (Djokovic leads 15-6).
Djokovic failed to close out the first set when he served at 5-4, but recovered to clinch the opener in the ensuing tie-break. Tsonga went up an early break in the second set, but his lead was short-lived as Djokovic immediately leveled at 2-2.
The Frenchman saved two match points – both with rifled forehand winners – in the 10th game, but Djokovic again dominated the tie-break to prevail.
“He was solid,” said Tsonga. “He didn’t give me one point in those tie-breaks, which was not my case. I gave him some of them, and it makes the difference at the end.”
The Serb has dropped just one set in reaching the semifinals, battling past young American Bjorn Fratangelo in three sets in his opening match.
“I felt like I was playing well, very solid; had the match under control; serving 5-4, 30/0,” said Djokovic. “Then all of a sudden, I was not putting a first serve in. He started mixing up with a slice and decided to play a bit different tactically.
“That got me off a little bit the balance and the rhythm. He started playing better. He started swinging more freely from the forehand corner, especially. It was very close.
“But, I take positives out of today’s match, the fact that I have played somebody that was feeling good throughout the week, somebody that serves very, very big and plays very quick and efficient, precise forehands.
“He gave me a lot of trouble today to win in straight sets and to win in two tie-breaks. I think it’s going to help definitely my confidence and mentally I will take that.”
Djokovic is chasing his third title of the season, following victory in Doha, where he beat Nadal in the final for the loss of just three games, and his 11th Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open (d. Murray).
His only defeat this season came at the hands of Feliciano Lopez in the Dubai quarterfinals, when he was forced to retire with an eye problem after losing the first set.
Nadal Beats Nishikori For SF Spot
Three-time former champion Rafael Nadal is through to the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open after surviving an early onslaught to defeat Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-3 on Friday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
The Spaniard will face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic for a place in the final of the first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament of the season.
“I had a tough draw from the beginning,” said Nadal, who saved match point in his fourth-round win over Alexander Zverev. “To be able to be where I am today, in the semifinals, and especially with the victory of today against a top, top player, that’s something very important for my confidence. It’s very important to believe in myself too, and winning the way that I did.
“Let’s try my best tomorrow. Let’s keep playing with the same energy. And we’ll see what’s going on. I know Novak is playing unbelievable, so it’s difficult. But I am here to keep enjoying, keep trying my best, and keep playing with the right energy.”
The 29-year-old Nadal is bidding to reach the final in Indian Wells for the fifth time. Winner of 27 Masters 1000 crowns, Nadal lifted the trophy at the BNP Paribas Open in 2007 (d. Djokovic), 2009 (d. Murray) and 2013 (d. Del Potro); he also finished runner-up to Djokovic in 2011.
The left-hander was under pressure early from the fifth-seeded Nishikori, who captured his 11th ATP World Tour title in Memphis last month (d. Fritz). The Japanese star broke early and had points for a 4-1 double-break lead, before Nadal found his groove.
The Manacor native fought back to level at 3-3 and from 4-4 reeled off five straight games to steal the opener and take a commanding lead in the second set. Nadal had a point for 4-0, before Nishikori halted his momentum.
After getting a foothold in the set, Nishikori then brought himself back into contention with a break in the seventh game. But Nadal regained his advantage in the following game and served out victory in one hour and 33 minutes.
Tellingly, fourth seed Nadal landed 88 per cent of his first serves and won 46 per cent of his return points, ultimately winning 12 points more than Nishikori.
“When I got the break back I felt it was a very, very important moment,” said Nadal, reflecting on the first set. “I feel strong mentally. I feel I have the right energy. When that happens, the rest is a little bit less difficult.
“I am able to fight for every ball. I am able to keep going during the whole match, believe in myself again, and that makes me play with more energy, less nerves. That’s so important for me. It’s the way I have played during all my career, and that gives me a lot. And this week is being very, very positive for me. Very important.”
“I think the beginning I was stepping in a little more and was hitting using my forehand,” said Nishikori. “I was hitting really good my serve, first serve, second serve, and maybe he started hitting more deep. I started backing up a little more.
“I think everything changed between that first set. I thought I had a couple of chances in the first set and second set, too, but some unforced errors. He played good tennis.”