LONDON – Kei Nishikori staged a heroic comeback effort against Roger Federer in his last round-robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals on Thursday, but ultimately fell to a three-set defeat that eliminated him from the prestigious season-ending event.
Nishikori, who was 1-1 in the group phase after being steamrolled by Novak Djokovic and overcoming Tomas Berdych in three sets, lost to Federer 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in 2 hours and 10 minutes.
“Today I thought I was playing very good,” Nishikori said. “Especially my returns — I was attacking second serves really well and I think that’s why I could break (Federer) so much.
“But I didn’t start sets well, so he always broke first and I was kind of on defense all the time. That was my biggest mistake.”
In the opening set, Nishikori and Federer traded two breaks apiece to reach 5-5 before Federer powered to a love hold and won the set when Nishikori gave up a crucial late break, dropping two points in a row at deuce with misses into the net.
Federer pushed his advantage to 4-1 in the second set before Nishikori staged a brilliant comeback, beginning with a double break chance he converted with a forehand return winner to get back on-serve at 4-3. Helped in part by some bad misses by Federer, Nishikori extended his run to five straight games — winning 16 of 20 points over one span — and claimed the second set as Federer netted a drop shot try from near the baseline.
This set would be the only one Federer lost in any of his three group-phase matches.
In the decider, he again went up 4-1 before Nishikori clawed back to level at 4-4. But this time the comeback fell short as Federer held serve and took advantage of the fatiguing Nishikori’s unforced errors. The final game went to deuce before the Swiss secured the victory with an overhead smash.
“In the end it was a really close match,” Nishikori said. “I think (it was a matter of) just a couple points that I didn’t play quite well enough.
“It is a shame to lose like this (but) I thought I was playing well. Congrats to Roger.”
Last year, following his historic run to the 2014 U.S. Open final, Nishikori qualified for the elite eight-man field for the first time. He advanced to the semifinals before losing to Djokovic, who won the event that year by walkover for his third consecutive ATP World Tour Finals title.
Nishikori finishes his 2015 season with three titles. The star did not reach his goal of making the semifinals in all four of this year’s Grand Slam events, although he got as far as the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and French Open.
“I’m trying to work on coming in to the net more, I think I’ve improved that a lot this year,” Nishikori said. “I want to keep doing that. I’m not a guy who gets a lot of aces, so I (also) have to raise my first-serve percentage.
“Trying to be healthy, I think that’s most important,” he said.
Despite a calf injury that forced him to withdraw from Wimbledon and pain in his left side and shoulder that sidelined him for parts of the fall, Nishikori managed to remain among the world’s top 10.
“If I can do a little better than this year, I think I can go a little higher (in the rankings) each year,” the world No. 8 said.
“I want to work hard again (during the offseason). I have a good three weeks to train, so I will try to work on little things and improve a little more. I think I have to be a bit stronger physically. But I’m excited for next year,” he said.
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