Japan’s Kei Nishikori avenged his loss to Marin Cilic in last year’s US Open final, defeating the Croatian 3-6 6-3 6-4 Saturday to reach the Washington Open final.
The 25-year-old rallied to oust the reigning US Open champion and advanced to Sunday’s title match against US eighth seed John Isner, who fired 31 aces to edge compatriot Steve Johnson 6-3 3-6 7-6 (11/9).
Fifth-ranked Nishikori improved to 6-3 in their all-time rivalry after having missed a chance to become the first Asian man to win a grand slam title when he fell to Cilic in last year’s Flushing Meadows final.
“It’s great to have revenge,” Nishikori said.
“Today I was playing very much better against Cilic. It was important to play well. Hopefully I will keep it going.”
Isner beat Nishikori this year in a Miami quarter-final in their only career meeting.
Nishikori, seeking his 10th career title after crowns at Memphis and Barcelona this year, is the first Washington finalist from Asia since Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan in 2002.
“It was a great win for me,” Nishikori said.
“Overall, I’m playing well, very aggressive. The last two sets I was very happy with my tennis.”
Despite the defeat, eighth-ranked Cilic felt the week was a solid start on the path to defending his US Open crown.
“Overall I’m pretty satisfied with the way I was playing,” Cilic said.
“Definitely it has given me some vision of what I’m going to focus on the next days and weeks.”
Cilic broke Nishikori in the second game of the match and jumped ahead 3-0 in the first 10 minutes. Nishikori missed two break chances in the fifth game and Cilic took the first set after 35 minutes.
“The first set I was playing extremely well. In the second, Kei played a couple of points really good to break me and change the momentum,” Cilic said.
In the later semi-final Isner broke Johnson in the sixth game of the match on the way to taking the first set, but Johnson won the second set, winning the only break point in the penultimate game when Isner volleyed a forehand beyond the baseline.
In the final set tie-break Johnson missed a forehand to end a 35-shot rally on his first match point and Isner fired the first of four consecutive aces to deny the second. The drama turned when Isner charged the net and hit a backhand volley winner, then closed the match with a service winner.
Isner, who won last week’s Atlanta crown, seeks his 11th career ATP title after denying Johnson his first ATP final.