ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS – World No. 7 Kei Nishikori’s hopes of a second ATP title this season were dashed by Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals of the Rotterdam Open on Saturday.
The top-seeded Nishikori, who won his first title in nearly three years at the Brisbane International last month, suffered a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 defeat at the hands of the former world No. 3, who is on the comeback trial after two operations on his left knee in August 2017.
The three-time Grand Slam champion, now ranked 68th, fired eight aces and converted five break points during a triumph that took 2 hours, 13 minutes.
“I started out playing at my opponent’s pace until I picked up my rhythm,” Nishikori said. “I also had chances in the third set, but (Wawrinka) played very well at important points.”
Wawrinka dominated the opening rallies and claimed four straight games.
Nishikori leveled the match after taking a 4-0 lead in the second set. The two held serve in the decider before the Swiss landed two winners in the 10th game at 30-30.
Wawrinka sent a stinging service return winner down the line to clinch the victory.
“It’s a big relief to reach my first final since my surgery,” Wawrinka said.
“It’s really important to see that I can play a full week of matches. I’m feeling good physically, I’m glad to be in a final again and glad to do it here.
“When you come back from surgery, you need to be patient with yourself. The toughest thing is to come back at the right level, where you want to be.”
Wawrinka broke Nishikori five times.
“Stan was playing well in the first set, but not like amazing,” said Nishikori.
“I made too many mistakes, too many unforced errors, I could have played better. I was missing too much.”
Wawrinka will vie for his first title since Geneva in May 2017 when he faces good friend Gael Monfils in Sunday’s final.
The French showman earned his spot after rallying past Daniil Medvedev 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. The win gave Monfils a measure of revenge after losing to Medvedev a week ago in the Sofia semifinals.
Medvedev’s defeat was only his third loss of the season, leaving his record at 14-3.
For Nishikori, it was only his second loss of the season against 11 wins.
After winning the Brisbane International, Nishikori advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals, where he retired injured while down a set and trailing 4-1 to Novak Djokovic.
He will compete at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in the United Arab Emirates, which starts Feb. 25.