Rafael Nadal defeats fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in London

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Spaniard Rafael Nadal will play Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals at the O2.

Rafael Nadal battled for more than two and a half hours to defeat fellow Spaniard David Ferrer and preserve his unbeaten record at the ATP World Tour Finals.

Ostensibly there was nothing for either man to play for – 200 ranking points and £109,000 aside – with Nadal already guaranteed top spot in the group and Ferrer eliminated.

– Djokovic: Djokovic sets up Nadal clash
– LONDON: Federer beats Nishikori at ATP World Tour Finals
– Abu Dhabi: Sports Council interested in hosting ATP event
– Pat Cash: I’d help Rafael Nadal return to tennis’ top table

But for two hours and 37 minutes they traded blows until Nadal, who has never won this tournament, finally prevailed 6-7 (2/7) 6-3 6-4.

The fifth seed must have thought it would be a straightforward afternoon when he broke serve twice to lead 3-0 in the opening set but it turned out to be anything but.

Nadal, who beat both Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray in straight sets, must now recover for a semi-final clash with world number one Novak Djokovic on Saturday.

Djokovic and Nadal have played each other more times than any other two players, and Djokovic will look to tie their head-to-head for the first time at 23-23.

The Serbian has dominated the rivalry over the past two years, winning seven of their last eight matches, and has not dropped a set to Nadal this year.

But he knows the Spaniard is playing his best tennis of the season having rediscovered his form and confidence.

Djokovic said: “It’s a fact that he’s been playing better and he’s been raising his level ever since the US Open, I think.

“The first couple of matches he played here against Wawrinka and Murray showed that, showed that he feels more confident, shows that he’s starting to miss less, serve efficiently, use his forehand much better.

“I know that, I’ve been watching. I know what is expected of me. We played so many times. I’m going to get ready for that one and hopefully I’ll be able to play at my best.”

Djokovic came into the tournament on a 22-match winning run and having lost only one set since the US Open final.

But his momentum was stalled by a loss to Roger Federer, his first indoor defeat in three years, and he was below his best again against Tomas Berdych, albeit in victory.

Djokovic said: “The last two matches haven’t been at the level desired, but I still managed to win two and lose one and I’m in the semi-finals.

“With the amount of wins I had this year, with the quality of tennis that I’ve played, I’m going to approach that match really optimistically as I always do.”

Federer, who will take on the winner of Friday night’s match between Wawrinka and Murray in the other semi-final, tipped Nadal as a potential title winner in London and is already expecting big things from him in 2016.

“I think he’s only going to get better,” said Federer.

“In the back end (of the season) he showed what’s to come in 2016, in my opinion. Then, with some time to practise and reassess his game, he’s going to be tough to beat in Australia. I believe that.

“Of course he can win the tournament here after his convincing wins against Murray and Stan.”

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Roger Federer beats Kei Nishikori at ATP World Tour Finals

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Three in a row: Winner Roger Federer (l) and Kei Nishikori.

Roger Federer made it three wins out of three in the group stages of the ATP World Tour Finals with a 7-5 4-6 6-4 victory over Kei Nishikori.

Federer was already guaranteed a place in the semi-finals courtesy of his straight-sets wins over Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic but battled for two hours and 10 minutes to maintain his unbeaten record.

Nishikori fought back from 4-1 down in the second and third sets but ultimately it was to no avail and his hopes of reaching the last four are now over.

– FEDERER: Veteran Swiss breaks Djokovic run in London
– NADAL: Spaniard in fine form to beat Murray
– Abu Dhabi: Sports Council interested in hosting ATP event
– Pat Cash: I’d help Rafael Nadal return to tennis’ top table

Djokovic will join Federer in the semi-finals unless he loses in straight sets to Berdych in the evening match.

Nishikori made the semi-finals here on his debut last year and took a set off Djokovic, and his chances looked very much alive when he overturned an early deficit with successive breaks to lead 4-3.

The Japanese is one of the cleanest hitters around and he flashed winners off both the forehand and backhand past Federer.

But the third seed was determined not to let Nishikori pull away and pumped his fist as he broke back for 4-4 before a backhand into the net from Nishikori gave Federer the set.

When Federer pulled 4-1 ahead in the second, that appeared to be that.

The trend for singles matches this week has been for a competitive first set to be followed by a whitewash of a second, but Nishikori took the attack to Federer to retrieve the break and then benefited from his opponent’s lapse in concentration.

A shocker of a miss from on top of the net contributed to a second straight break and Nishikori levelled the match.

The eighth seed was pushing for another break in the third game of the decider but Federer recovered from 0-40 to hold and then rubbed salt in the wound by breaking himself.

Again Federer got to 4-1 but again Nishikori fought back, showing why he is tipped as the man most likely to take over the mantle once the ‘big four’ finally fade.

But for now their dominance remains and Federer, who had converted all of his six break points, buried a smash to make it 51 wins in 14 appearances at the tournament.

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Wawrinka battles back from poor start to beat Ferrer

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Great response: Wawrinka.

Stan Wawrinka showed his fighting spirit to set up a winner-takes-all clash with Andy Murray for a place in the semi-finals at the ATP World Tour Finals.

– FEDERER: Veteran Swiss breaks Djokovic run in London
– NADAL: Spaniard in fine form to beat Murray
– Abu Dhabi: Sports Council interested in hosting ATP event
– Pat Cash: I’d help Rafael Nadal return to tennis’ top table

Wawrinka was heavily criticised for his performance against Rafael Nadal on Monday but he recovered from 5-2 down in the opening set against David Ferrer to win 7-5 6-2.

That result means Nadal has won the group following his 6-4 6-1 victory over Murray earlier, and the winner of the clash between the Scot and Wawrinka on Friday will qualify for the last four in second place.

Wawrinka said: “It was a tough battle. It’s always difficult to play David and I’m really happy. I didn’t start well but I started to find my game.

“Andy is an amazing player. He’s number two this year, he’s had an amazing year. He’s always tough to play, especially at home. I’ll look forward to that match.”

It looked like being another bad day for Wawrinka when Ferrer broke serve to lead 3-1, and the Spaniard then withstood pressure from his opponent to save break points and make it 5-2.

But Ferrer’s Achilles heel this season has been his serve and, once he double-faulted on set point in the ninth game, it all unravelled.

The seventh seed netted a forehand to give up the break, and then another double fault handed Wawrinka a second successive break, which he converted into the set.

As with so many matches at the tournament over the past couple of years, once the first set had been decided, the second was a virtual non-event.

Wawrinka broke serve for a third straight time in the opening game and quickly pulled away.

His first two match points went begging, the second when he sent a straightforward-looking smash to the far reaches of the O2 Arena, but he clinched it on the third.

Even then there was a stroke of luck. Ferrer thought Wawrinka’s shot was out – a suspicion HawkEye proved – but the Spaniard was out of challenges and had to concede defeat after an hour and 33 minutes.

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