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Novak Djokovic advances despite controversy; Roger Federer gets upset by Kei Nishikori

The night ended with the week’s biggest upset.

No. 20 seed Kei Nishikori of Japan stunned fifth-ranked Roger Federer 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 in a late-Wednesday thriller at the Sony Open.

Novak Djokovic, who defeated 2013 Sony champion Andy Murray in straight sets earlier in the day, will meet Nishikori in a Friday semifinal.

Federer thought he would be fresher after a 49-minute match the previous round, compared to the three-hour Nishikori match Tuesday. But Nishikori had plenty of energy left, and by the final set, the crowd roared with every point.

“Really, I think today the biggest problem was I just couldn’t get myself going –ever,’’ said Federer, who fought off two match points before falling. “I tried, I fought. He played aggressive and took it to me, so I wish him the best.

“He looked like he didn’t play at all yesterday. Credit to him.’’

Said Nishikori, 24: “Another tough, tough match today. Hopefully I can have good rest tomorrow, but body-wise I’m feeling good, so I think I’m getting stronger.

“I was playing much better the second set, especially at the end.’’

Djokovic stands two victories shy of his fourth Sony Open championship.

Murray is no longer defending his 2013 title.

And in a Miami minute, maybe a smidgeon more, both learned a simple lesson: don’t strike the ball on your opponent’s side of the net — even if occasionally you get away with it.

“I’m going to be completely honest with you,” World No. 2 Djokovic of Serbia said after his 7-5, 6-3 Sony quarterfinal victory Wednesday against No. 6 Murray of Scotland. “I did pass the net with my racket and I told Andy that. My bad. I thought that it’s allowed to cross the racket on his side without touching the net.’’

In a match that encompassed well over a hundred points during an unseasonably cool and windy afternoon, only one was incessantly dissected.

With two-time Sony champion Murray serving at 5-6 in the first set, Djokovic lunged to volley a shot that dropped in for a winner. Problem is that Djokovic clearly, as replays showed, hit the ball before it crossed onto his side of the court — not allowed in tennis.

The opponents, seemingly confused, met at the net and had a brief conversation. Murray appeared increasingly upset and approached chair umpire Damian Steiner, who obviously did not notice the rules infraction. The Stadium Court crowd booed, though the target of its wrath wasn’t evident. The point remained in favor of Djokovic, and a flustered Murray lost the next three points on unforced errors to drop the set.

Calls of that type cannot be appealed for video review.

“You guys had a little conversation about that point that you won. What did you say to him?” Djokovic was asked by ESPN2 immediately after the match.

“Look, it might be my mistake,” Djokovic, 26, replied. “... I told him that I thought I’m allowed to pass with the racket over the net, but without touching the net it’s my point. That’s what I thought. Maybe he’s right. I’m not sure, but obviously that distracted him mentally and after that he gave the set away.”

The Serb seemed contrite and sincere after Wednesday’s 90-minute match, but told reporters he wasn’t to blame. “It’s not my fault,’’ he said. “Obviously, [the] chair umpire didn’t make the decision about these things. I mean, I was never lying on the court. You know, I always try to be fair to whoever I play against. The chair umpire is there, so he should know that.”

On Tuesday, Djokovic displayed his sportsmanship by conceding a point to Tony Robredo, when the umpire called for a replay and the Serb acknowledged he wouldn’t have been able to return the ball.

Murray, who lives part of the winter in Miami’s Brickell area and often trains at the University of Miami, defeated Djokovic in two Grand Slam finals — the 2012 US Open and last summer’s Wimbledon. But he just couldn’t get it together after the wacky point, despite breaking Djokovic’s serve to go up 3-2 in the next set.

After that, it was all Djokovic, who now leads Murray 12-8 in head-to-head play.

The Scotsman was asked if during the match he felt the controversial point should have been his.

“Well, I wasn’t sure. I mean, from where I was standing, it was a very hard thing to see. It’s a lot easier if you’re looking straight across the net to see whether someone is over or not.

“I knew it was close. So that’s why I went and asked Novak, and he told me he was over the net. That was it.’’

So, what did the umpire say to Murray?

“He said yes, he was over the net, but he was in line with the net, so I didn’t really I didn’t understand.’’

When Murray was repeatedly questioned about the episode, he became agitated.

“I don’t need to keep getting asked about it,’’ he finally said. If it was over the net, it was over the net. I was right to complain and that’s it.”

Nonetheless, he didn’t seem disappointed in his overall play and indicated he was fine after September back surgery.

“If someone had told me after the surgery this is where I would be going into April, it wouldn’t be too far from where I would have liked to have been,’’ Murray said. “I think my game is just about there. I played some very good tennis this week.’’

This story was originally published March 27, 2014 12:01 AM.

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