Kei Brings 'A' Game, Upsets Cilic
Nishikori, renowned for his fighting abilities, had seen three match points evaporate in the second set, but as the match wore on he dug deep in the critical moments to complete a 6-4, 6-7(1), 6-3 quarter-final victory over the second-seeded Cilic.
“Every match I think I'm improving,” said Nishikori. “Today was tough match. He was playing very good, especially in the second set. He was playing aggressively, [taking the ball] early and serving well.
“It wasn't an easy match. Yeah, mentally it was a little bit tough in the second set. I lost three match points. He was starting to play better again.”
Having also worked hard in his three previous wins this week over 2015 runner-up Tomas Berdych, Daniil Medvedev and qualifier Andreas Seppi, the Japanese star – through to his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final in 20 months – will now prepare to compete on Saturday against third-seeded German Alexander Zverev, celebrating his 21st birthday today.
Nishikori, who reached the New York Open semi-finals (l. to Anderson) in February, lost to Zverev in their only previous meeting at the 2017 Citi Open in Washington D.C..
Nishikori’s eighth victory in 14 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against World No. 3 Cilic was earned over two hours and 56 minutes. It was the first time he had beaten a player in the Top 3 of the ATP Rankings since November 2016, when he beat then No. 3-ranked Monte-Carlo resident Stan Wawrinka at the 2016 Nitto ATP Finals.
The Japanese star has reached three Masters 1000 finals – at the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Nadal) and two in 2016 at the Miami Open presented by Itaú and the Rogers Cup in Toronto (l. to Djokovic both times), which was also his last semi-final appearance at the elite level.
Nishikori looked in complete control throughout the first set, which included one service break in the fifth game. But when Cilic was leading 3-1 in the second set, the Croatian stopped play after the first point of the fifth game to take a medical time out. With something bothering Cilic below his right knee that was already strapped up, the three-minute break in play benefitted Nishikori, who broke back immediately and went on to clinch Cilic’s serve in a nine-minute ninth game.
Yet Nishikori, serving for a place in the semi-finals, was unable to close out three match point opportunities from 40/15 and Ad-In, courtesy of a double fault, a backhand error and a well-timed backhand winner from Cilic. Soon errors in the tie-break, coupled with aggressive play from Cilic that saw the second seed win seven of the eight points, sent the encounter into a decider.
Nishikori needed to bide his time until the eighth game of the third set, with Cilic hit a forehand into the net when serving at 30/40. Minutes later, at 5-3, 40/30, Nishikori sent a first serve down the middle which Cilic couldn’t get enough racquet on.
Monte-Carlo resident Cilic, who had been competing in the quarter-finals for the third time (also 2015, 2017) at the club where he trains year-round, drops to a 15-6 match record on the season, which includes a runner-up finish at the Australian Open (l. to Federer).
Did You Know?
Nishikori continues his pursuit of a third tour-level clay-court title. The Japanese star triumphed in Barcelona in 2014 and 2015.