Top seeds advance in Auckland, champion Isner out

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Top seed David Ferrer and second seed Nicolas Almagro both got what they wanted in terms of preparing for the Australian Open with tough three-set matches before advancing to the semi-finals of the Auckland Open on Thursday.

Champion John Isner, however, who was forced to three sets by Robin Haase in the late match on Wednesday, was unable to repeat the feat on Thursday and was knocked out by a resurgent David Nalbandian 6-4 7-6.

The Argentine, who withdrew from the Auckland tournament last year with an abdominal strain that forced him out of the Australian Open, was too fast for the towering American and needed just the one break of serve, in the first set, to advance to a semi-final against Almagro.

World number seven Ferrer was pushed by German Tobias Kamke on Wednesday and was stretched again on Thursday before finally overcoming 2008 champion Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3 6-7 6-3.

"It was a very tough match," Ferrer said. "I think Philipp played very good.

"Maybe in the second set I (did) not serve like the first set and the third set, but with Philipp it's the same always when I play with him, a long match."

Ferrer will play the winner of the late quarter-final between Colombia's Santiago Giraldo and seventh seed Thomaz Bellucci.

Almagro did not have it all his own way against French qualifier Adrian Mannarino but eventually claimed a 7-6 6-7 6-2 victory.

"It was a very tough match, I had to be focused all of the time, which was difficult," said Almagro, who lost his temper with officials over several line calls in the second set.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)