WASHINGTON – Kei Nishikori beating Marin Cilic at the Citi Open doesn’t offset losing the same matchup in the 2014 U.S. Open final. Regardless, payback was sweet for the Japanese star.
Nishikori rallied to beat Cilic 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Saturday in the Citi Open semifinals in their first showdown since Cilic beat Nishikori in the U.S. Open final exactly 11 months ago.
“It’s good to win against a top 10 player and especially Marin,” the second-seeded Nishikori said. “We had a battle last year at the U.S. Open. It’s great to have revenge today and I hope I can keep it going tomorrow.”
The first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam final, Nishikori improved to 42-9 this season. Only Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have won more ATP this matches this year, with 48 apiece.
John Isner faced Steve Johnson in an all-American match in the second semifinal later in the day.
The first Grand Slam final appearance for either Nishikori or Cilic occurred Sept. 8, 2014, in New York. Cilic won the match 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Using that win as a tactical guide, he appeared headed for a similar result in the rematch.
“It was giving me a direction to think about the game, to plan what I could do in the match.” Cilic said of any U.S. Open thoughts before the rematch.
The third seed did not drop a set in his first three matches in Washington. That streak continued initially as he broke Nishikori’s first service game and comfortably won the first set. He smashed one of his nine aces on set point.
“The first set was similar as the match we played last year. That was my idea of how to play,” Cilic explained.
Things immediately turned rocky from there, even though Nishikori received assistance from a trainer for left leg tightness during the second set.
Nishikori raced to a 5-0 lead in the second set and broke Cilic’s serve opening the final set.
“He was playing well so I kind of let go of the first set,” Nishikori stated. “I tried to hit a little more aggressively. Some of the shots I (had) to close my eyes and just hit the ball.”
Nishikori’s serve faltered at times late in the match, forcing the 179-cm baseliner to grind out a win against the 198-cm Cilic.
He double-faulted twice in the eighth game as Cilic tied the match 4-4, but with the crowd cheering him on, the fifth ranked player in the world quickly countered. He broke Cilic for the fourth time and then served out the match to reach his fourth final of the year.
“I think it was a great win for me,” he said.
The big serving Cilic now shifts his focus to the remainder of the hard court season, including a defense of his U.S. Open title.
“Next matches I’m just going to try to be more focused with my serve, to be more deadly,” he stated.
Nishikori lost his only previous match against Isner, but is 3-0 lifetime against Johnson.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova advanced to the women’s final after top seed Ekaterina Makarova withdrew before the third set with the score 4-6, 6-3. Pavlyuchenkova will meet American Sloane Stephens or 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur in the final.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5