MADRID (AP) — Top-ranked Rafael Nadal is back in a clay court final at the Madrid Open, where Japan's Kei Nishikori denied an all-Spanish meeting by converting his 10th match point in a grueling victory over David Ferrer on Saturday.
Nadal, the defending champion, reached his first clay final since winning in Rio de Janeiro in February with a 6-4, 6-4 win against countryman Roberto Bautista Agut.
Ferrer saved nine match points before Nishikori ultimately overcame his late nerves for 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 delivered 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 local fans backed 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 rankings on Monday. "(Nadal's) the king of the clay, so hopefully I can hang in there and try to play another good match."
Bautista Agut, playing in his first career Masters series semifinal, couldn't match the experience of Nadal, who continues to improve after coming to the Magic Box center having lost at consecutive clay tournaments for the first time in a decade.
Nadal 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 to within 4-3 before Nadal overcame his 21 errors by pulling away to reach his 90th career final.
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