Top seed and defending champion David Ferrer has survived a late fightback to secure his position in the last four in a three-set thriller in the Heineken Open in Auckland tonight.
Ferrer, the No 3 in the world, eventually won 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, but initially looked to be cruising to a straight sets quarter-final triumph over fellow Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Ferrer swept through the first set 6-3 and went a break up early in the second.
Aiming for a record fifth title in Auckland, Ferrer was looking far too accomplished for his opponent only for a sudden transformation to come over the match midway through the second set.
Until then Garcia-Lopez had been spraying far too many unforced errors but he came good with dramatic intent and broke Ferrer three times in succession to win the second set 7-5.
With some of the best stroke play seen in the tournament so far, the world No. 58 rattled Ferrer before he steadied to go a break up in the decider.
But still Garcia-Lopez would not give up. He broke back and it took all of Ferrer’s considerable experience to start moving his opponent around the court.
He then closed out the high quality match.
“I felt I played better than yesterday and I must do the same to win tomorrow,” he said.
Ferrer will now face unheralded Chinese Taipei journeyman Yen Hsun Lu in tomorrow’s semi-finals.
Earlier in the day, in a gruelling match eventually won by accuracy of serve it should come as no surprise John Isner's main weapon wore down gutsy German Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The big-hitting American fired 18 aces and by his standards, that's an easy day at the office. The Heineken Open third seed is hard to take on at the power game.
Last year, flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils and German Tommy Haas produced a memorable quarterfinal.
This captivating three set thriller was an equally tight battle.
Former champion Kohlschreiber did everything possible to run his lanky opponent ragged. In the end, though, Isner's astonishing 83 per cent first serve percentage pushed him into the semifinals, where he will meet Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut tomorrow.
At the end of the 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 6-7(5) endurance battle which lasted two hours and 24 minutes, every member of the Stanley Street crowd were on their feet applauding what was a high-class quarterfinal.
"If I didn't have that serve I probably shouldn't be playing pro tennis," Isner said. "I'm fortunate to have a weapon like that. It carried me today."
When the absorbing contest drew to a close Isner, the world No 14, was carrying a noticeable limp.
Provided recovery goes to plan, Isner, who missed the Australian Open through injury last year, will be favoured to progress to the final and probably challenge four-time champion David Ferrer. Now that would be a contrasting affair.
Featuring in his ninth last-eight appearance in Auckland, Kohlschreiber saved seven break points in the match. Yet, somehow, Isner fought back and showed defiant attributes to force a deciding third set and save three break points of his own.
Locked at 4-4 in the third set tie-break, Isner again turned to his serve which regularly clocked over 200km/h. His final push proved decisive and he will now attempt to replicate his 2010 triumph, his only tournament win outside the United States.
Also on Thursday, American Jack Sock couldn't match his earlier feats and appeared to suffer stage fright while crashing out in straight sets to Bautista Agut.
Sock was the talk of the town yesterday after easily ousting world No 12 Hass.
But with a place in the last four up for grabs the 21-year-old choked, committing 35 unforced errors.
The typically patchy Auckland weather delayed play for most of the afternoon, but that didn't affect Bautista Agut. The world No 73 outclassed his youthful opponent for a comfortable 6-1, 6-1 win in just over an hour to progress to the final four.
Chinese Taipei's Yen Hsun Lu made short work of American qualifier Steve Johnson to emerge as the third semi-finalist.
The world No 62, who is 30, had never won a quarterfinal match in 10 previous attempts, won 6-4, 6-4 against an out-of-touch Johnson who made 49 unforced errors. .
- Fairfax Media