Nishikori Survives Muller, Faces Cilic In Basel Final

Japanese star improves on career year

Kei Nishikori earned a career-best 56th win of the season at the Swiss Indoors Basel on Saturday, but had to fight back from the brink against veteran Gilles Muller. Muller held two match points in the second set before Nishikori rallied to win their semi-final match 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3.

"Gilles is a great server and I wasn't making many returns today," Nishikori said. "I made a lot of unforced errors to lose the first set."

Muller, who has reached six ATP World Tour semi-finals this year by serving big and blanketing the net, uncharacteristically chose to stay back against Nishikori to start the match. He quickly went down 1-3 but his left-handed groundstrokes began to find their mark against the Japanese star. Nishikori lost the initiative serving at 4-2 and dropped the last four games of the set. 

The Luxembourg native was twice a shot away from glory in the 10th game of the second set, but Nishikori held on and evened the match with a sneaky serve-and-volley play in the tie-break. The physicality of the No. 3 seed’s game wore on Muller as the match went on. The lefty reverted to his attacking game but was undone by a perfect Nishikori backhand pass for the decisive break. Muller finished with 20 aces, but won just 47 per cent of second-serve points to fall to 0-3 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry against Nishikori.

"I knew he was coming in [on match point]," said Nishikori. "I tried to play with confidence even on my second serve. My arm was shaking a little bit, but I managed to get through that tough moment."

Nishikori, who is qualified for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, will aim for his 12th tour-level title in his 20th final appearance on Sunday. He will face Marin Cilic, who also overcame an attacking player in qualifier Mischa Zverev, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3. 

Zverev is in the midst of his best run as a professional. He upset top seed Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals and earned a special exemption into the main draw of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Paris next week.

"Mischa played great this week," Cilic said. "He was serving and coming to the net extremely well. When I saved those break points at 4-4, 0-40 in the second set, that was the turning point of the match. That gave me some confidence. The third set was a battle but I felt I was better in the end."

The German left-hander’s game plan was simple: Come to net on everything. Cilic struggled to find solutions against the relentless barrage in the first set, but gradually dialed his passing shots in and even found ways to take the net away from Zverev by moving forward himself. After dropping his first service game of the week in the opening set, the Croatian held the rest of the way to win in just over two hours.

Nishikori leads 7-4 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Cilic, though the Croatian won his only Grand Slam final at the 2014 US Open at Nishikori’s expense.

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