Melbourne: David Ferrer beat Japan's Kei Nishikori to reach his third straight Australian Open quarter-final Sunday, but he then insisted he didn't deserve to be counted among the sport's "Big Four".
Ferrer, who will usurp celebrated fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal as world number four after the Open, baulks at talk that he belongs to the exclusive group alongside Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
The Spanish fourth seed was far too consistent and disciplined for 16th seed Nishikori, winning 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in 2hr 10min, but he brusquely dismissed suggestions he was in the top four on merit.
"I am top four because Rafael has been injured a long time. It's true," Ferrer admitted.
"I think the top four, they are better. It's my opinion. But I am trying to win every match. The results, are there, no? I'm not making something up.
"It's very difficult for me to win a Grand Slam because there are the top four. At this time they are better than the other players."
Ferrer was made fourth seed in the year's opening Grand Slam when Nadal pulled out with a stomach virus, after missing all of last year after Wimbledon with a knee injury.
The modest Ferrer is one of the hardest workers on the men's tour and he had too much for Nishikori, who began the match brightly.
"Today I played one of the best matches of my career at the Australian Open. I'm very happy with my game," Ferrer said. "It was in three sets, but it was very difficult to beat Nishikori."
Ferrer chased everything down, making 24 winners and 24 unforced errors, and was he outstanding scrambling in defence, whereas Nishikori gave up 65 unforced errors in an erratic performance.
The indefatigable Ferrer will line up against fellow countryman and 10th seed Nicolas Almagro, who progressed when Serbia's Janko Tipsarevic retired with a foot injury during their match.
Although Nishikori had beaten Ferrer in their only previous Grand Slam encounter at the 2008 US Open, this time it was clear-cut for the Spaniard.
Nishikori's exit ended Asia's hopes in the men's singles draw as he was bidding to repeat last year's quarter-final appearance in Melbourne.
Nishikori began brightly and had five break points in Ferrer's opening two service games.
But the consistent Spaniard gradually ground down the more error-prone Nishikori, breaking him in the fourth and eighth games to take the opening set in 46 minutes.
Nishikori's form tailed off against the controlled Ferrer and he had a double service break to hand the second set to the world number four.
Nishikori was having problems with his troublesome left knee, which forced him out of this month's Brisbane International, and he called for the trainer to restrap it and took a painkiller tablet.
"You have to be really 100 percent to play against these guys, so it's not easy when you have something," Nishikori said. "I was worrying a little bit (about it), but, no, it was okay.
"I tried to play aggressive, but I think I did it too much, I was missing too many and making too many unforced errors. He was playing good, he didn't miss much, and he gets every ball."
Both players traded breaks at the start of the final set, but Ferrer broke Nishikori twice more to clinch victory on his first of three match points.