Shanghai: Kei Nishikori underlined his imminent status as Japan`s highest-ranked player ever on the ATP Tour with a commanding 6-4 6-3 victory over Ukraine`s Alexandr Dolgopolov to reach the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters on Friday.
The 21-year-old, widely tipped as a future top-10 player, continued his dazzling form to snuff out the threat from the tricky Dolgopolov and reach his first Masters Series semi-final when he will face favourite Andy Murray.
In-form world number four Murray continued his quest for an Asian hat-trick with a straightforward 6-3 6-2 victory over Australian qualifier Matthew Ebden.
With so many big names, including world number two Rafa Nadal, already departed Murray is now poised to follow his titles in Bangkok and Tokyo with a successful defence of his Shanghai title, although he is taking nothing for granted.
"There are some very good players left in the tournament," Murray, who is seeking a 21st career title, told reporters after finally outclassing Ebden despite some early anxiety.
"Obviously Rafa going out was a bit of a surprise. The surface really is a tough one for him here. And David Ferrer, he`s number five in the world. So let`s not forget about him."
Ferrer beat American Andy Roddick 6-7 6-2 7-6 to set up an all-Spanish semi-final against Feliciano Lopez who brushed aside top seed Nadal`s conqueror Florian Mayer 6-2 6-4.
Nishikori will rise from his current 47th to around 32 in the world when the next set of rankings are released on Monday, eclipsing the 46th spot reached by Shuzo Matsuoka in 1992.
Having already achieved his best Masters Series run by beating Colombia`s Santiago Giraldo on Thursday, Florida-based Nishikori withstood nine aces from 12th seed Dolgopolov and saved six of the seven break points against him.
It was a composed display and further proof that Nishikori is starting to deliver on his potential.
"It means a lot to play semis here," he told reporters. "I`m really excited now. I started well today."
"I knew he`s going to hit a lot of slice shots and I had to be careful," added Nishikori, who is coached by Murray`s former coach Brad Gilbert.
"It`s been a great year for me. I will get to my highest ranking. To be the number one player in Japan means a lot. Now it`s the semis here, one of the biggest tournaments for me."
Looking ahead to his first encounter with Murray, Nishikori said it would be a formidable test.
"Andy has won two tournaments in a row, and beating Nadal (in Japan). It`s going to be tough. I`ve never played him but I`m going to ask my coach. He knows a lot of things, I guess."
Mayer came back down to earth from his victory over Nadal as the rangy Lopez took him apart in one hour and eight minutes to reach the semi-finals in Shanghai for a second time having also got to the last four in 2009.
The relentlessly consistent Ferrer came from a set behind against 10th seed Roddick, clinching a 50th victory of an impressive season in a deciding set tiebreak.
"I thought the second and third sets he played at an extremely high level and served pretty well," Roddick, who still has an outside chance of qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals in London next month, said.
"You know, you normally don`t count on him making a lot of first serves, hitting aces. I felt like today he did that and got himself out of trouble a couple of times."
Ferrer secured the fifth spot of eight in the season-ending tournament in London on Thursday.