Canada's Milos Raonic put up a fight but could not earn the upset as top seed Rafael Nadal recovered to win their quarter-final matchup in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 comeback at the Sony Open Thursday.
The Thornhill, Ont., product cemented his return next week to the ATP top 10 as he won his first career set against Nadal after four losses in the series.
"It's unfortunate, the outcome. I would have obviously wanted to do much better," said Raonic. "This time around I handled myself much better, especially considering the conditions. I went out there knowing it would be hard to play well and it would be hard for things to go smoothly.
"A lot of things we have been working on I managed to incorporate, and I feel like I'm much further ahead. I dealt with the situation much better than I would have a few weeks ago or few months ago."
Raonic rolled over slightly on his ankle as he dived for a return in the third set but appeared to shake it off near the end of the two-hour, 34 minute struggle.
The Canadian was held to eight aces and one break for serve from just three chances. He had 28 winners to Nadal's 26.
Raonic and Nadal duelled for 52 minutes in a tight opening set. The only true opening came in the final game.
Nadal lost his first career set against Raonic as he sent over a perfect stop volley which dropped dead near Nadal's net, giving the 12th seed set point while leading 5-4.
Nadal put over a nervous double fault to lose the opener, his first dropped set of the tournament.
The Raonic magic began to fade in the second set after he started to lose pace on his weak second serve, with Nadal going up a double break for 4-0.
"He just had the right approach after that first set. We were both struggling quite a bit," said Raonic. "He let go a little bit more.
"He's been in that situation much more than I have. He dealt with it from a mental and strategical side better than I did."
Raonic contributed a pair of costly double-faults to end both of his losing games as the Spaniard took control, gathering his trademark momentum.
The 23-year-old Canadian saved a break point to start the third set as the contest started to peak. Nadal got a break for 4-3 after Raonic had rallied from down 0-30 but eventually hit the next with a backhand to drop serve for the third time.
Nadal held for 5-3 and earned the victory two games later, sealing his move into the semi-finals on a forehand winner down the line for the first of three match points.
Overall, Raonic takes away some renewed confidence form his month on the hardcourts.
"I played much better this week than I did last week," he said. "And a lot of the things that we are working on are going well."