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Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic into Sony Open final as opponents withdraw

Although many Sony Open fans hoped for a men’s final featuring a 40th installment of the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic rivalry on Sunday, the expectation was they would have to earn their spot with semifinal wins Friday.

Sometimes, however, assumptions turn out to be very wrong. On Friday, the top-seeded Nadal and second-seeded Djokovic never struck a semifinal ball.

Both of their opponents took a sick day.

In the afternoon, Djokovic was supposed to play the 20th-seeded Kei Nishikori, Japan’s top player, who withdrew with a left groin injury.

The evening match between Nadal and seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych was scrapped because the latter was suffering from gastroenteritis.

Not surprisingly, it has never happened before in the Open Era that two semifinal matches were decided by walkover at the same ATP tournament.

“It’s very unlucky, very unusual for something like that can happen,” Nadal said. “[I’m] sorry for Kei, sorry for Tomas, and sorry for the tournament, and sorry for the fans.”

When fans were told before the evening session the men’s match wouldn’t be played and they would only see the women’s doubles semifinal they booed and whistled but eventually quieted down.

Tournament director Adam Barrett, obviously upset that fans were left without much of a program Friday, said, “We will try to take care of all our fans the best we can. It’s not an optimal situation. It’s hard to get through a day like this.”

Before his withdrawal, Nishikori, 24, was the giant killer of this year’s tournament, posting consecutive three-set upsets over two top-five players — David Ferrer in the Round of 16 and Roger Federer in the quarterfinals

“It was a great run for me to beat two top 10 guys,” Nishikori said. “I have a lot of confidence, and it’s pretty unfortunate to get injured, but this was a very exciting and positive week for me.”

Berdych has been playing top-flight tennis this year, winning the Rotterdam title, reaching the Dubai final and the Australian Open semifinal.

“I just woke up with a pain in my stomach,” said Berdych, who went on to graphically explain his symptoms. “I lost so much of the liquid and all the possible energy I could have.

“I came here, see the doctors, receive the IV and, basically, not with good results that I can go and try.”

Closing the door on a forgetful Friday, the Sony Open is back in action Saturday with the hope that top-seeded Serena Williams and second-seeded Li Na produce a fabulous final for fans.

And then on Sunday, Nadal will look to improve his 22-17 winning record over Djokovic in the men’s final. Nadal’s come up empty in three previous Miami final appearances. Djokovi has won this title three times, including beating Nadal in the 2011 final.

If Sony Open history tell the story it could be bad news again for Nadal.

This will be only the third time the top two ranked players have vied for this title and the second-ranked player won those previous battles — Andre Agassi defeated top-ranked Pete Sampras in 1995 and Djokovic hoisted the trophy over the top-ranked Nadal after their 2011 final.

This story was originally published March 29, 2014 12:00 AM.

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