Nishikori Back From The Brink

Japanese rallies against inspired Monfils

Kei Nishikori left his comfort zone behind in an epic 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) victory over Gael Monfils at the Miami Open presented by Itau on Friday. The No. 6 seed saved five match points and advanced to the semi-finals after two-and-a-half hours.

“When I was down 4-5, love-40, I thought it was going to be it,” Nishikori said. “It was going to be tough to come back. I tried to play one point at time.

“I saw that he was down a little bit in the tie-break, so I tried to be focused. I did pretty well in the tie-break.”

The No. 16 seeded Monfils came out firing, ripping a 109 mph service return en route to breaking Nishikori in the opening game. The Frenchman was all-in on his service games as well, topping 140 mph on the radar gun with his first delivery. He would end with 14 aces and 41/51 points won on his first serve. Nishikori kept pace with the explosive Monfils by making his second-serve returns count (26/40 points won) and by sneaking into the net at critical junctures.

By the start of the third set, Monfils, clothes soaked with sweat, was clearly labouring under the Miami sun. But instead of going away quietly, the Frenchman began swinging with abandon and found his mark time and again. Down 2-4 in the deciding set, Monfils swept the next three games and held four match points with Nishikori serving to stay in the match at 4-5.

“At 3-4 I really raised my level,” Monfils said. “I started to be very aggressive, started to go for it, and still had the strong feeling that I could make it.

“At the end, I pushed very hard and definitely had an opportunity to close it out, but Kei fought well. In the tie-break he was just better than me.”

“I enjoy how he plays,” Nishikori said. “You don't see many other players who play that way. He's a very athletic player and gets to every ball, so it’s not easy to play him.”

Nishikori did not allow Monfils, who was chasing his first win over a Top 10 Emirates ATP Rankings player since last April (d. Federer in Monte Carlo), to win the final point. The baseliner broke with his usual patterns of play and serve-and-volleyed to force a deciding tie-break, then took advantage of an ill-advised Monfils drop shot to move ahead for good. He improved to 16-5 in Miami, 2-0 in the FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Monfils, and matched his best showing in South Florida (2014 SF).

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