Nishikori Takes Revenge On Cilic, Isner Saves 3 MP In Washington
Kei Nishikori avenged his loss to Marin Cilic in last year's US Open final with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 win in the Citi Open semi-final Saturday to reach his fourth ATP World Tour final of the year. Nishikori needed just over two hours and saved six of eight break points to win the first Washington, D.C. clash between the previous year's US Open final combatants.
In the first set, Cilic made a quick start and raced to a 3-0 lead after breaking Nishikori in his opening service game. The advantage held up, as Cilic saved two break chances at 3-1 and served out the set in 35 minutes. It was the fourth consecutive 6-3 set that the Croat had taken against Nishikori, having downed his opponent 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in Flushing Meadows last September.
"It was really tough, because he was playing really good tennis in the beginning," said Nishikori. "In the first set he started well. I tried to be more aggressive and change mentally a little bit. I was up 4-3 and he came back. I had to concentrate again, but I played some good tennis too so it was a great win for me.
"I think overall I was playing well. The last two sets I was very happy with my tennis. It's a good to win against a Top 10 player and especially after our battle at the US Open. I hope I can keep going tomorrow."
The World No. 5 Nishikori then found his range against the eighth-ranked player in the Emirates ATP Rankings, going up 5-0 on Cilic in less than 30 minutes. Cilic prevented the bagel by holding serve, but Nishikori forced a deciding set by closing out his next service game.
Keen to improve upon his 5-3 FedEx ATP Head2Head against Cilic, Nishikori started the third set by taking his opponent's serve. Cilic equalised at 4-4, but Nishikori swept the next two games to set up a final against John Isner on Sunday. He becomes the first Japanese player to reach the final in Washington, and is the first Asian player since Paradorn Srichaphan in 2002 (l. to Blake) to play for the D.C. title.
Isner, meanwhile, survived three match points to down Steve Johnson 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(9) after one hour and 55 minutes. Isner, who will seek his first Citi Open crown in his third final, fired 30 aces and won 85 per cent of first serve points.
The all-American clash went down to the wire, with Johnson holding a pair of match points at 6-4 in the deciding tie-break. After staving off the first, Isner fired a 137 mph ace out wide to save the second and draw level at 6-all. It began a string of four straight aces for the big-serving 30 year old. At 9-all, Isner charged the net to put away a volley and earn the decisive mini-break.
The top American will contest his second straight final after capturing a three-peat at the BB&T Atlanta Open last week (d. Baghdatis). He previously finished runner-up in Washington, D.C. in 2007 (l. to Roddick) and 2013 (l. to Del Potro). Isner improved to 23-7 at the Citi Open and will be eyeing an 11th ATP World Tour title and eighth on hard courts. He is 9-3 in deciding tie-breaks this year.
In Sunday's final, Isner and Nishikori meet for the second time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. The North Carolina native claimed their lone encounter in straight sets at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami earlier this year.
"It was incredible," said Isner. "With this atmosphere, playing under the lights, perfect conditions with no wind, it wasn't hot and the crowd was into it.
"I've been in this situation before (in the tie-break). I tried to take care of my serve and put the pressure on him. I didn't do it that well because I was playing from behind for the most part, but I didn't get too rattled and believed in myself. I had the wins coming into this match and it goes a long way. It's not a tangible thing, but confidence is huge."