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Two-time champion Roger Federer put together his best performance at the Rolex Shanghai Masters yet on Friday to beat Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-4, 7-6(4) over one hour and 52 minutes and reach the semi-finals.
Federer was his usual aggressive best, smashing returns at Nishikori's feet and touching the lines with second-serve returns in their eighth FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting (Federer leads 6-2). The Swiss broke serve three times and recovered from 1/4 down in the second set tie-break to record his 39th match win of the season.
“It was a tough match. Obviously Kei hogs the baseline much more than [Daniil] Medvedev did or also what [Roberto Bautista Agut] did. I think it was a different type of match,” Federer said, comparing the quarter-final to his first two matches in Shanghai. “I was very happy with the beginning of the match, to be quite honest. I played quite great there. Then the second set was key moments who was going to play a little bit better. Kei really tried to step it up one more time. I somehow got it done, so I was very pleased.”
The defending champion Federer will next meet Croatia's Borna Coric in a rematch of their BNP Paribas Open semi-final, which Federer won in three sets. Coric reached his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final of the season by sweeping Aussie Matthew Ebden 7-5, 6-4. Coric beat Federer in the Gerry Weber Open final in June.
“He's also really improved his game, stepping up in the court and hitting through the shots more than what he used to,” Federer said. “I think it's going to be tough. He's good in defence. He has a transition game now too, and he's got a solid serve. He's had a good tournament here again. I have always played him when he's playing well.”
The 37-year-old Federer is going for his third Shanghai title (2014, 2017) and looking to stay No. 2 in the ATP Rankings. He'll secure the latter if he wins the title and Novak Djokovic, who's also into the semi-finals, does not reach the final.
Nishikori could do little to slow down the two-time Shanghai champion as Federer raced to a 4-1 lead in the opener behind two breaks. Nishikori broke back but Federer served out the set to love.
The Swiss jumped on top in the second set with an immediate break, although he was broken in the fifth game when he lifted a backhand long. Nishikori, buoyed by Japanese support in the Qi Zhong Stadium, worked his way back from 0/30 when serving at 5-5. Nishikori capitalised on short balls early in the tie-break, but Federer won six straight points for a memorable win.
“Second set I think we both played good tennis. But sad to lose like that... maybe next time,” Nishikori said.
Federer, a winner of 98 tour-level titles including 27 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns, is now 39-6 on the year, which includes the Australian Open (d. Cilic), the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam (d. Dimitrov) and the MercedesCup in Stuttgart (d. Raonic).
“I think I can be very happy with the level of play this week... There was some good ball striking going on from both of us today. I hope I can keep it up for tomorrow,” Federer said.
Nishikori, who last week lost to Medvedev in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018 final, is currently in ninth position in the ATP Race To London. With three of eight singles spots left at the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 11-18 November, the Japanese star is 535 points behind eighth-placed Dominic Thiem (3,535).