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Nishikori books spot in Rakuten Japan Open semis

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Kei Nishikori continued his march toward the Rakuten Japan Open final on Friday afternoon with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over unseeded Jeremy Chardy of France in the quarterfinals.

The seventh-ranked player in the world, Nishikori put on another fine display with an array of shots in the win on the hardcourt at Ariake Colosseum. He served well and relied on his powerful forehand at key points in the match.

Nishikori, the runnerup at last month’s U.S. Open, will face unseeded Benjamin Becker of Germany in the semifinals on Saturday. Becker beat Jack Sock of the United States 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the day’s last quarterfinal.

The Shimane Prefecture native is gunning for his second straight title and fourth of the season. Nishikori has triumphed in Memphis, Barcelona and Kuala Lumpur in 2014.

Chardy, ranked 34th, had beaten Nishikori in two of their three previous matches, but both wins came on clay.

“It was a tough match today with the windy conditions,” said Nishikori. “This was my first match with the roof open, so it took me some time to adjust.”

The fourth-seeded Nishikori got off to a slow start before another packed crowd, as Chardy broke him in the second game of the opening set to take a 2-0 lead.

But Nishikori responded by breaking back in the next game, then held serve to level 2-2. He settled down from there and broke Chardy again for a 5-4 advantage, then claimed the set on serve.

Nishikori, the champion here in 2012, broke Chardy in the first game of the second set, then won the fourth game with an ace to take a 3-1 lead. Nishikori ripped a return winner to break again to move ahead 4-1.

Nishikori then took an injury timeout to have his lower back worked on by a trainer.

He got up and held serve again for 5-1, then closed it out on his next service game.

“He started very aggressively,” stated Nishikori. “He was getting to a lot of balls. I just hung in there and tried to use the wind to my advantage.”

The result keeps Nishikori on track for a showdown with Canada’s Milos Raonic, the third seed, in Sunday’s final.

Nishikori believes his fitness will hold up through the rest of the tournament.

“I’m a little tired, but I should be OK for the rest of the week,” he commented.

Raonic beat unseeded Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 7-6 (10-8), 6-3 to move into the semifinals.

Raonic put on an amazing show by winning 97 percent (38 of 39) the first serves that he got in.

So strong was the serving by both players that there was not a break point until the 21st game of the match.

The first set was on serve until the tiebreaker, where Raonic outlasted Istomin in a tight battle.

Raonic finally broke the service break drought in the eighth game of the second set to go up 5-3, then took the match on serve when Istomin netted a forehand.

Raonic pounded away from the baseline, but also exhibited a deft touch with an array of shots in the contest. He had 15 aces in the victory.

“I struggled finding myself at the beginning, then started to impose my will as the match went on,” said Raonic.

Raonic said he was not surprised that it took so long for a break point to arrive in the match.

“I’ve played him before and it always goes to the tiebreak in the first set,” he noted.

The win keeps Raonic on course for his third straight trip to the final here, where he has lost the past two years.

“I’ve done well in this tournament,” he said. “I want to keep doing better.”

The eighth-ranked Raonic, will play France’s unseeded Gilles Simon in the semifinals. Simon downed Steve Johnson of the United States 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 to advance.

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