Kei Nishikori scored the upset of the Sony Open on Wednesday night, coming back from a set and a break down to defeat Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to advance to his second ATP Masters 1000 semifinal.
Nishikori's second victory in a row over the Swiss snapped Federer's streak of making the semifinals at his last seven tournaments. Nishikori will face Novak Djokovic on Friday.
In cool and windy evening conditions -- which saw the brief return of the famed Federer vest -- Nishikori wore down Federer over two hours and eight minutes. It was Federer's first night-session match in Miami and the different conditions seemed to affect his game. He was firing from the baseline with ease but struggled with the rhythm on his serve throughout the match. He won the first set despite serving at only 38 percent -- he raised it to 53 percent for the match -- and built a break lead twice, at 2-1 and 4-3, in the second set. But Nishikori immediately broke back both times and broke one more time at 6-5 to take the set.
"Just couldn't find my rhythm on my serve, which was surprising especially after how well I played and served especially this week," Federer said. "It didn't take off the same way it did during the day time. You can expect that with the temperature drop."
Federer looked flustered by his drop in form. He was blasting big backhands in the first set but that shot eventually dipped and Nishikori kept attacking it. The third set looked destined for a tiebreaker, with both men holding serve. Serving at 4-5, though, Federer hit two bad forehand errors to fall behind 0-40. He saved two match points but not the third, as Nishikori cracked a leaping backhand crosscourt winner to seal the match. It was an even match on the score sheet, with Federer hitting 29 winners and 39 unforced errors to Nishikori's 25 winners and 42 unforced, but Nishikori's superior play in the tight moments was the difference.
In addition to the temperature change, Federer said he had trouble adjusting to the lights. Most of his recent matches have been scheduled during the day. "But still I had the set and a break and another break again," he said. "So it's a bit frustrating, but Kei did well to stay with me."
Nishikori improved to 2-1 against Federer, making him just the third player (along with Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray) to play the 17-time Grand Slam champion at least three times and have a winning record.
"I thought I really played well, especially in the third," Nishikori said. "I was hitting both deep and striking well. Everything was going well."
Nishikori continued his fantastic form in Miami. Coming in ranked No. 21, he'll be back inside the top 20 on Monday thanks to wins over No. 16 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 4 David Ferrer and now No. 5 Federer. It's the first time Nishikori has defeated two top-five players in a single tournament.
Before Nishikori's comeback, much of the discussion on Twitter concerned ESPN's decision to air the match on tape delay as opposed to live. With ESPN owning the rights, Tennis Channel was stuck airing alternate programming and the only access U.S. fans had was online via streaming on ESPN3 or TennisTV. Fans took to Twitter to express their displeasure at the programming decision. You can't fault them: Roger Federer plays a quarterfinal match at an American tournament and it's not aired live? Tennis has a remarkable ability to shoot itself in the foot.
Here's how Twitter reacted to ESPN2's airing the NIT rather than The Federer:
Did the Tennis Channel not show the Federer match because it was mad at him? — Shane Bacon (@shanebacon) March 27, 2014
I understand @ESPN has obligations to NBA and NIT, but let @TennisChannel have this match so fans can watch on tv in real time. @ESPNTennis — Eric (@PaxAttack300) March 27, 2014
.@ESPNTennis @ESPN3 If Roger Federer is serving on the internet somewhere & no one sees it happen, does it make a noise? #ESPNfail — Robert Nello (@atlanticist) March 27, 2014
Lemme get this straight @ESPNTennis - this game is *only* on ESPN3??? The Federerer? The greatest of all time. You cannot be serious! #fail — Jenn (@honesgirl) March 27, 2014
thank you @ESPNTennis for ruining my night... cannot believe Federer vs Nishikori match isn't being shown on TV!!!! Wow! — gina marano (@ginammarano) March 27, 2014
@TennisChannel you show every match but @rogerfederer at @SonyOpenTennis?? talk about disrespect to Fed & his fans! #pathetic #disgraceful — Brennan Rees (@brennanrees) March 27, 2014
It's pathetic between the five #espn channels and @tennischannel no one is showing Fed's match. No excuse. Big fail #SonyOpenTennis — ryanloral (@ryanloral) March 27, 2014
@SI_BTBaseline too bad we dont get to watch... Why does espn3 always bogart matches and screw fans that have committed to watching tourney? — VeeList (@VeeList) March 27, 2014
Everyone can throw up their hands or point fingers. But ATP/IMG/Sony Open/ESPN…common sense has to prevail to get this match televised. — Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) March 27, 2014
Just read Fed lost a close one and it wasnt aired on any network here in states? How is that possible?
— Lindsay Davenport (@LDavenport76) March 27, 2014
https://twitter.com/jon_wertheim/statuses/449029479483338752 This post has been updated.