MADRID − Second-ranked Roger Federer was ousted by Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 in the third round of the Madrid Open yesterday, leaving Rafael Nadal as the clear title favorite. After recovering from Nishikori’s strong start on the Caja’s Magica’s new red clay courts, Federer looked like he’d found his stride as he roared back in the second set.

But Nishikori reasserted his ground game in the decider after breaking the defending champion for a 3-1 advantage and held on for the surprising victory to reach the quarterfinals.

“He was my idol and to beat him was one of the goals for my tennis career,” the 16th-ranked Nishikori said.

Federer’s early exit leaves Nadal as the apparent front-runner after world No. 1 Novak Djokovic bowed out on Tuesday.

Earlier, Nadal cruised into the quarterfinals with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Mikhail Youzhny. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova also advanced.