Nishikori beats Cilic in US Open final rematch
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.”
After grinding out a win over the 6-foot-6 Cilic, the 5-foot-10 baseliner now aims to chop down 6-foot-10 John Isner.
In an all-American match, Isner smacked 31 aces and fended off three match points for a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9) win over Steve Johnson in the second semifinal.
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.
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.
The third seed 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. Nishikori trusting his on-court instincts played a part.
Despite receiving assistance from a trainer for left leg tightness during the second set raced, Nishikori raced out to a 5-0 lead. He also broke Cilic’s serve opening the final set.
“I tried to hit a little more aggressive,” Nishikori stated. “Some of the shots I have to close my eyes and just hit the ball.”
He double-faulted twice in the eighth game as Cilic tied the match 4-4. With the crowd cheering him on, the fifth ranked player in the world quickly countered. He broke Cilic again before serving out the match to reach his fourth final of the year.
American Sloane Stephens reached her first career final with a 7-6 (4), 6-0 win over 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur. She will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who won the first semifinal match in the women’s draw after top seed Ekaterina Makarova withdrew before the third set with the score 4-6, 6-3.
Stephens was 0-6 in her previous semifinal matches.
Cilic now shifts focus to the remainder of the hard court season, including 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.
Isner didn’t have such concerns against Johnson, who has still never reached a final on the ATP World Tour. Facing one of his best friends, Isner erased two match points with aces, created a mini-break with a forehand volley and hit a service winner on his second match point.
In their only previous meeting, Isner defeated Nishikori in straight sets at Miami in April. The American considers that performance his best this year.
Isner is 0-2 in Washington finals. He won last week in Atlanta.
“I’m so excited to be back in the final here,” the eighth seed said. “Hopefully it will be third time lucky.”