Kei Nishikori withstood a blistering early assault and saved five match points before battling past Frenchman Gael Monfils 4-6 6-3 7-6(3) in a bruising quarter-final at the Miami Open on Thursday.
The Japanese number one will face 24th seed Nick Kyrgios in the semi-finals after the Australian upset 12th seeded Canadian Milos Raonic 6-4 7-6(4).
Sixth seed Nishikori appeared to have his match in control when leading 4-2 in the final set but his usually reliable forehand repeatedly let him down as he fell behind 4-5 0-40 on serve before mounting a gutsy fightback.
He saved four match points in that 10th game, and a fifth in the 12th, before racing into a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak as Monfils made a string of unforced errors, Nishikori finally sealing the win with a forehand crosscourt winner.
“When I was down 4-5 and 0-40, I thought I almost gave up the match,” Nishikori, 26, told ESPN in a courtside interview after an epic encounter between two of the most athletic players on the ATP World Tour that lasted two-and-a-half hours.
“But I tried to play one point at a time and tried to focus on what I had to do, especially my serve. In the tiebreak, I just tried to focus again and fight harder.”
Nishikori, who also reached the last four in Miami two years ago, was left reeling in the opening set as the 16th-seeded Monfils played high-risk, aggressive tennis right from the start, highlighted by an explosive service game.
“I was a little bit surprised how he played, especially the first couple of games,” said Nishikori.
“I was waiting for a little bit more long rallies and I wasn’t expecting to play that fast so I had to make some adjustment.”
Kyrgios took down his more fancied opponent in two sets to reach the last four for the first time in a ATP Masters 1000 event, riding a break in the first game of the match all the way to victory.
“I knew it would be a tough match. Milos has played great the last couple of weeks and the only person he’s lost to is Djokovic so I knew it would be a tough task,” Kyrgios said.
“I played really well out here, the crowd was a lot of fun, the atmosphere was really good and I thought the level of tennis was really good as well.
“To be honest I didn’t think I was going to break during the match but I broke him in the first game. I came out really energetic and I got pretty lucky and that definitely made me more relaxed and made me play my game a little bit easier.”