BARCELONA – Kei Nishikori produced some flawless tennis on Saturday to advance to the final of the Barcelona Open with a 6-2, 6-4 semifinal victory over Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis.
On Sunday, Nishikori will play in the second clay-court final of his career, when he faces either Nicolas Almagro of Spain or unseeded Colombian Santiago Giraldo. Almagro stunned the tournament on Friday, when he handed world No. 1 Rafael Nadal his first Barcelona Open defeat in 11 years.
The fourth-seeded Nishikori, ranked 17th in the world, dominated nearly every rally against his bigger-serving opponent and broke in the fifth game of the first set and then dominated the rest of the set as Gulbis’ efforts to force the issue with his serve failed him.
With his back to the wall, Gulbis, ranked 23rd in the world, valiantly fended off repeated break points in the second set to win his first three service games and go up 3-2. Gulbis took an injury timeout after winning the fifth game. Nishikori finally broke to go up 5-4 and only a slight touch of nerves marred his victorious final service game.
A pair of double faults gifted Gulbis two points before Nishikori could settle down, get his serve in and grind out the game in rallies, where he had his opponent at a disadvantage and wrapped it up in 1 hour, 25 minutes.
It was the second straight one-sided victory for Nishikori, who didn’t face a single break point against Gulbis.
Nishikori advanced to the semis by cruising past Croat Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-3 on Friday, a day which was highlighted by Nadal’s stunning upset in an all-Spanish quarterfinal.
Almagro, ranked 20th in the world and the sixth seed here, broke Nadal’s serve three times in the final set to send the eight-time champion down to a 2-6, 7-6 7-(5), 6-4 defeat. The last time Nadal lost in Barcelona, was in 2003, when he was a 16-year-old making his tournament debut.
Nishikori is competing for the first time since his bid for the Sony Open title in March was derailed by a groin injury after he defeated former world No. 1 Roger Federer in the quarterfinals.