Murray Downs Nishikori To Reach SFs
Andy Murray will face Stan Wawrinka in a must-see semi-final at Roland Garros after battling past eighth seed Kei Nishikori on Wednesday 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(0), 6-1. The Scot overcame a slow start to reach his fourth consecutive Roland Garros semi-final and come within a match of returning to the Roland Garros final, where fell to Novak Djokovic last year.
Wawrinka advanced by beating Croatian Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. The semi-final will be a rematch of a last-four match-up last year, in which Murray dismissed the 2015 titlist Wawrinka in four sets. The Scot leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 10-7 and has won their past two contests, including a round-robin contest at last year's Nitto ATP Finals in London.
“When we played last year, it was similar situation coming in. I think Stan had played really well coming into the match. I had struggled in some of my matches during the event last year, but I played one of my best clay-court matches that day to get the win. I need to do the same again... He's been playing very well. He's not dropped a set here,” Murray said. “It's going to be very tough. But I can learn some things from last year. I'm sure he will, as well, and will try to change some things. Should be an interesting match.”
Two weeks ago, it seemed unlikely that Murray would be enjoying such a run in Paris. The Brit entered Roland Garros 4-4 on the clay but has since reeled off five consecutive victories, including wins against Juan Martin del Potro, #NextGenATP Karen Khachanov and Nishikori. Murray is now 21-7 on the year and looking for his first title since March when he captured the Dubai crown.
“As you get through the matches, you gain in confidence,” Murray said. “I didn't feel like I played great tennis today. It's a huge step in the right direction for me. Anyone can win matches when they are playing well. It's winning when you're not playing your best that is more impressive. So I'm happy about that... Obviously if someone had offered me a semi-final spot before the tournament, I would have signed up for that because I was not playing well at all. And practice also was not good.”
Murray's quarter-final, his 11th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Nishikori, didn't start off well for the World No. 1, either. Nishikori played nearly perfect for the first 34 minutes, pushing Murray feet behind the baseline and charging the net at every opportunity. Nishikori also seized his court-position advantage, executing drop shot after drop shot to keep Murray off guard.
It was the same strategy that helped him prevail against Murray in the 2016 US Open quarter-finals, the last time the Japanese beat Murray.
But the Brit came alive in the second set and hardly looked back. Earlier in the match, Murray had been warned about spending more than 20 seconds in between points. And as he was mid-toss at 40/40, 1-1 in the second set, chair umpire Carlos Ramos delivered a time violation, which stripped Murray of the chance to hit a first serve.
Murray used the penalty to jumpstart his play. He won the next point and celebrated with a “Let's go! Come on!” The Scot held that game and then reeled off four consecutive games to even the match as Nishikori looked dejected and struggled to replicate his electric opener.
“Obviously for a couple of points after that I was fired up, because I was frustrated at that moment,” Murray said. “That was a critical period of the match because he started way better than me. He had chances at the beginning of the second as well. And then from there I started to do a bit better.”
In the third set, Murray broke at 5-5 when Nishikori dumped a backhand into the net. The Japanese dropped his head in disappointment but quickly bounced back to force a tie-break. Murray, though, dominated the tie-break, not yielding a single point to take a two-sets-to-one lead.
The fourth set was more like the second set, as Murray was the aggressor and coasted to a return trip to the semi-finals.
“I couldn't maintain my level, obviously. I was missing a little more in the end than earlier in the match,” Nishikori said. “I think a little bit of rushing too much, too aggressive sometimes. At the same time he was raising his level. So it was tough to play in the end.”
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