Kei To Play For Historic Title In Monte-Carlo
Kei Nishikori came through his fourth three-setter in five matches this week on Saturday to become the first player from Japan to reach the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, which first began in 1897.
Nishikori knocked out third-seeded German and Monte-Carlo resident Alexander Zverev in a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 semi-final victory that lasted two hours and 13 minutes. Nishikori had previously lost to Zverev in the Citi Open semi-finals at Washington, D.C. in July 2017, but he advances in his pursuit to become the first player from Japan to win an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.
"I always enjoy playing this tournament," said Nishikori, who is competing here for the first time since his 2012 debut. "It's a great place to play tennis. I'm happy to be back in final of a [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 again. It's been long time for me. Hopefully I can have another good day tomorrow."
The 28-year-old Nishikori will now contest his fourth Masters 1000 final (0-3) and his first since August 2016 at the Rogers Cup in Montreal (l. to Djokovic). He will play 10-time champion Rafael Nadal in Sunday’s championship match at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. Incidentally, World No. 1 Nadal returned to a practice court on Saturday afternoon after his 6-4, 6-1 semi-final win over Grigor Dimitrov, ahead of his bid to capture a record 31st Masters 1000 crown.
"Rafa has been hitting very, very heavy, especially on his forehand, but also his backhand," said Nishikori. "He's been playing very solid this week. I hope I can find a way to beat him."
Nadal leads Nishikori 9-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including two clay-court final wins at the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open (when Nishikori injured his back) and at the 2016 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell. Nishikori did win the pair’s last match 6-2, 6-7(1), 6-3 on a hard court at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Nishikori hit his first double fault on game point at 3-3, then began to lose his concentration. Zverev capitalised to break, after Nishikori committed a third successive error, and went on to secure the first set that lasted 38 minutes, when his Japanese opponent struck a forehand long.
While Zverev recovered an 0-2 deficit in the second set with three straight games, the German struggled for service consistency and was broken on three occasions. At 3-5, 15/40, a stray forehand cost Zverev the set. It meant that Zverev would contest his fourth straight three-setter this week (Muller, Struff, Gasquet), while Nishikori was going the distance for the fourth time (Berdych, Seppi, Cilic) in five matches.
Each player saved two break points in their first service games of the decider and Nishikori later showcased his great hands, with a cute forehand volley at 3-3, Ad Out, en route to winning a 10-minute seventh game. Nishikori completed his 10th match win of the year when a deep return was hooked wide by Zverev, who had reached last month’s Miami Open presented by Itaú final (l. to Isner).
"It was a good match," said Zverev. "My serve wasn't there today. That's why I had to play a lot of long rallies. Yesterday, obviously, the match was very tough physically. I was also very tired. By the end of it I was very tired. All in all, it was a good first week on clay. A lot of positives here. A few things I have to work on, especially my serve. I just have to think positively and I think there's going to be a lot of other good weeks."
The 21-year-old Zverev, now 17-7 on the season, had been attempting to become the first player from his country to reach the final since Boris Becker, who had been present at the tournament this week, finished as runner-up for the third time in 1995 (also 1989, 1991). Gottfried von Cramm remains the only German to lift the trophy, doing so on two occasions in 1936 and 1937.