Kei Nishikori rallied from an early deficit to down home hope John Isner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the Citi Open final. On Saturday, after a tight semi-final victory in Washington DC, John Isner told the crowd that he’d need them out in full force the next day to win the title. They did their part on Sunday, showing up and providing him with backing in the championship match against World No.5 Kei Nishikori, but it was not enough as the top-ranked American lost in a hard-fought three-setter.
In a match where Nishikori was only a little better than his opponent, the final outcome was never obvious until late in the match. That’s in part because it featured just three breaks of serve. The first was for Isner, but it was the latter two for Nishikori that were ultimately the difference.
The 6ft 10in Isner, known as much for his booming serve as his size, was not the better striker on this warm, slightly overcast afternoon. Nishikori managed an impressive winning percentage on his first serve, 91%, to the usually steady Isner at only 76%. Perhaps the Japanese star’s success in hindering Isner’s conversion rate stemmed from having faced and defeated other notable servers during the week: Marin Cilic in the semis in a rematch of the 2014 US Open final, and before him Aussie up-and-comer Sam Groth.
Isner snatched the opener with a pair of scorching forehand returns in the 10th game, earning the first break of the match. Nishikori would fight back, opening the second set with an immediate break and consolidating to love for 2-0. Isner received treatment on his right shoulder after the third game and the Japanese refused to relinquish his advantage, sending the final encounter to a one-set sprint.In the third, Nishikori did not let his foot off the gas, grabbing a break in the third game and holding serve to the finish line.
The turning point of the match for Nishikori actually came after Isner suddenly broke him at 5-4 to take the first set. In the pause ahead of the second, Nishikori sat dejected with a towel wrapped over his head, as much to dodge the heat as hit reset. But it gave him the motivation to respond, and respond he did. In the very next service game, Nishikori broke Isner back, taking the second set by the throat and never looking back, despite a tiny bit of trouble closing it out up 5-4 on serve.In the deciding set Nishikori again struck Isner’s serve early, this time in the third game, on his way to championship point at love.
The World No. 5 has been a dominant force in deciding sets, now owning a 13-3 record this year when going the distance. He has won 34 of his last 40 such matches. Nishikori, who was appearing in his 15th ATP World Tour final, captured his 10th title. Nishikori, who will rise one spot in the world rankings today to match his career high of No. 4 (leapfrogging Roland Garros Champion Stan Wawrinka), was last year’s US Open runner-up to Croatian Marin Cilic, who he beat in the Washington semi-finals in their first meeting since last year in New York.Nishikori’s strategy of methodically wearing down his 30-year-old opponent with his groundstrokes during the two-hour match and it’s easy to see why the Japanese star continues hisupsurge in the ATP rankings.
Three of the Japanese’s last four titles have come at the ATP World Tour 500 level, winning on the clay of Barcelona this year after hoisting the trophy on home soil last October in Tokyo. Nishikori earns $343,000 and 500 Emirates ATP Rankings points.
Isner was eyeing his 11th tour-level title and second in as many weeks after clinching his third consecutive BB&T Atlanta Open crown. He owns a 23-8 record in Washington, D.C., including runs to the final in both 2007 (l. to Roddick) and 2013 (l. to Del Potro).
Isner had claimed their lone previous encounter on the hard courts of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Miami earlier this year. He takes home $154,620 and 300 Emirates ATP Rankings points.
“I didn’t make enough inroads on his first serve,” said Isner. “If you put a decent amount of first serves in the court, he’s arguably the best in the best in the world from the baseline. It’s tough. I thought he served better in the second and third sets. He’s a great player and a great champion.
“Getting to the final of an event like this three times is something to be proud of.”
Nishikori became the first Asian singles winner in the tournament’s 47-year history despite connecting on only 59 per cent of his first serves. He managed to win 42 of his 46 first-serve points.
Isner, who fired 18 aces to five for Nishikori, will jump from 18th to 12th in today’s rankings.
Both players now head to Montreal as they continue their preparations for the US Open, which starts on 31 August. Nishikori was a finalist in New York last year and is still looking to take the final leap and become the first Asian man ever to win a grand slam singles title. “I just can’t wait to play the US Open,” he said. “I’m just excited again to play on a big stage. I like that tournament.”
STATSMETER – Kei Nishikori
• Kei Nishikori has the best deciding set record in the Open-Era (minimum 80 matches):
• Kei also managed to win his 6th ATP 500 title (10th in the Open-Era for most ATP 500 titles; joint with Andre Agassi). Roger and Rafa lead the way in this category with 16 each.
• Kei is 10-5 (66.6%) in ATP World Tour Finals which is 6th best winning percentage in finals among the active players. Del Potro leads the order with 18-7 (72%) followed by Gilles Simon who is 12-5 (70.6%).