WASHINGTON – Kei Nishikori was already going to enter the U.S. Open brimming with confidence, thanks to his runner-up finish there a year ago. A title at a hard-court tuneup a few weeks before heading to Flushing Meadows only helps.
Getting his game in shape ahead of the season’s last Grand Slam tournament, Nishikori came back to beat big-serving John Isner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday for his first Citi Open title.
“I just can’t wait to play the U.S. Open,” said Japan’s Nishikori, who lost the 2014 final in New York to Marin Cilic, the man he beat in Washington’s semifinals Saturday. “I’m just excited again, playing on a big stage.”
The second-seeded Nishikori weathered 18 aces from the eighth-seeded Isner, a 208-cm American who fell to 0-3 in Citi Open finals.
“Certainly have not lost to any slouches,” said Isner, beaten for the title by Andy Roddick in 2007 and Juan Martin del Potro in 2013.
When a reporter mistakenly asked about dropping four Washington finals, Isner held up three fingers and said with a chuckle: “It’s not that bad. Come on. I’m not the Buffalo Bills just yet.”
He won a title at Atlanta last week.
“I’m certainly a bit low on fuel, probably, but as far as health goes, there’s nothing (injured) per se. . . . Maybe I didn’t have quite as much pop on my serve today,” Isner said. “I’ve thrown a lot of pitches the last two weeks.”
Tellingly, during the trophy ceremony, Isner made sure to thank his chiropractor and the tour trainer who massaged his right shoulder during a second-set changeover.
By then, things were trending Nishikori’s way. He won 91 percent of first-serve points overall, not facing a break point over the last two sets. And he totaled 13 unforced errors, fewer than half of Isner’s 28.
With the temperature in the mid-20s (Celsius), there were not many extended exchanges from the baseline, but when there were, Nishikori usually came out ahead. An exception came in the last game of the first set, when Isner’s cross-court forehand forced an error to get to 15-30 on Nishikori’s serve.
Isner pounced, pounding consecutive forehand return winners. That gave Isner the set, and he waved his right hand, motioning to the crowd for more noise.
“Nothing I could do,” Nishikori said. “So I just tried to focus again.”
He quickly recovered, breaking right away to move ahead 1-0 in the second set.
“If I hold that first game, the pressure’s still on him and I’m sort of free-rolling out there,” Isner said. “That was a pretty big turning point, for sure.”
In the third set, Nishikori broke to go up 2-1 when Isner dumped a forehand into the net. They would play for nearly another 25 minutes, but the final essentially was over.
Nishikori collected his 10th career title and third of 2015, when he is 43-9. Only No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer have won more tournaments this season, and only Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray have won more matches.
Nishikori rises from No. 5 to No. 4 in Monday’s rankings, equaling his career best.
In the women’s final, 22-year-old Sloane Stephens of the U.S. won the first WTA title of her career, overwhelming Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-1, 6-2. In men’s doubles, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan won their fourth Citi Open title by defeating Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo 6-4, 6-2.
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