BEIJING: Rafael Nadal crashed out of the China Open quarter finals to 20th-ranked Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov on Friday as Andy Murray swept into his 11th semi of the season.
Despite two breaks in the first set, the fourteen-time Grand Slam champion was unable to keep his serve and Dimitrov kept the pressure on for a 6-2, 6-4 victory — his first over the Spaniard.
“Losing five serves in a row is something that you cannot (do and) win a match like this. That’s it,” Nadal said after the loss.
Nadal, 30, is approaching the end of his second consecutive season without a Slam title since he won his first aged 19 at Roland Garros in 2005.
The loss in the Chinese capital also puts his qualification for an 11th consecutive ATP Final — which brings together the season’s top eight players — in doubt.
Murray, meanwhile, beat Davis Cup teammate Kyle Edmund to keep his hopes of dethroning Novak Djokovic for year-end number one alive.
The Scot — who is coming to the end of a career best season — was forced into a tense 20-point tie break in the first set by his 21-year-old compatriot.
But Edmund was unable to hold his serve in the second and Murray denied him a spot in his first season semi-final with a 7-6 (11/9), 6-2 win.
Fellow Briton Johanna Konta was also smashing dreams Friday, as she crushed home favourite Zhang Shuai in two sets.
Buoyed by the home crowd, Zhang broke the Briton twice to take the opening four games of the match.
But at 0-4 down, Konta abruptly turned the tide in her favour winning 12 consecutive games to book her semi-final place with a 6-4, 6-0 victory.
“During the match I do my best to really try to impose myself on her because she definitely looks to dictate when she can. When she’s able to, she’s very dangerous,” Konta told reporters.
The fourteenth-ranked Briton is now one win away from joining the ranks of the top 10, which would make her the first British woman to join the elite grouping since Jo Durie in 1984.
Konta next faces American Madison Keys, who ended Petra Kvitova’s eight-match winning streak in an epic two-tiebreak victory, 6-3, 6-7 (2/7), 7-6 (7/5).
Keys put in an Olympic effort to exact revenge over Kvitova in what was their first meeting since the Czech denied the American a bronze medal in Rio.
A double fault by Kvitova turned the first set in Keys’ favour but it was the Czech’s 32 unforced errors to Keys’ 25 that ultimately decided the semi-final place.
Kvitova — a two-time Wimbledon champion — has had a year of ups and downs since she split with her coach of seven years David Kotyza after the Australian Open and has failed to get past the round of 16 at any of the Grand Slams.
Keys, 21, made her top 10 debut this year and the big hitter — who is often cast as a successor to 22-Grand Slam champion Serena Williams — is also chasing her first qualification for the elite WTA Finals in Singapore.
With her quarter-final win she moves into seventh in the Race to Singapore leaderboard, but Konta is hot on her heels.
On the men’s side, Ferrer dispatched German youngster Alexander Zverev while Wimbledon runner up Milos Raonic saw off Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-4, 6-4.
Zverev, 19, was looking to cap a breakout season with a strong Beijing run, but was unable to capitalise on his first set lead as he was overpowered by Ferrer 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 7-5.
The German upset the Swiss world number three Stan Wawrinka to win his maiden ATP title at St. Petersburg in September, having downed number nine Tomas Berdych in the semis.
In Beijing he beat 10th-ranked Austrian Dominic Thiem in the first round, making him the first teenager to defeat three top 10 players in a row since Boris Becker in 1986.
Despite the loss, Zverev — who started the year ranked 83 — is expected to rise to 21 when the new rankings are released Monday as he edges towards a place in the top 20 for the first time.