Blue skies and puffy clouds greeted a steady stream of people as they filed in the Rock Creek Tennis Center today while Crepe Myrtle blossoms fluttered in the breezes.They came to see rock star tennis, especially the semifinal between Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori the 2014 of U.S.Open finalists. And they came because they love tennis in D.C.
Crowds favored Nishikori from start to finish.
“Come on Kei!”
“Come on Nish-eee!”
The No. 2 seed whipped up on Cilic, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, in a match that no one would describe as great — yet had moments of brilliance — for both men. Cilic’s comments from yesterday seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy for the US Open champion.
“I’m feeling that match after match I’m getting into better form,” Cilic began. “But I wouldn’t say I’m in the same form. I feel that I’m improving as a player, but otherwise I’m not at the level as I was at the end of the US Open. I’ll have to work on that still and build up in the next weeks. To play Kei is great match up for me no matter win or lose; it’s going to give me a lot of feedback after that match.”
Cilic began with a bang, fell off drastically in the second, and revived himself — if only for a brief moment — in the third. He was satisfied with this performance and contemplative about what he learned.
“Generally, for me, it was probably the best match in this tournament,” Cilic began. “I was very close to staying in the match when in the third set I broke back. And, generally, I felt today overall I was feeling the ball better.”
Cilic’s style in the opening set eerily resembled his top-notch form from New York. He leaned into his backhand, as it skimmed the net; his serves popped and found their spots; and he broke early, as Nishikori floundered from the strength and accuracy of shots. Cilic had one break point, converted it and carried the advantage to the end of the set.
“The first set I was playing extremely, extremely well,” Cilic said. “It definitely gave me some vision for the next weeks and what to be focused on.”
“He was playing very good tennis, in the beginning. He was hitting good serves and many aces. So it was tough at first,” Nishikori said. “I didn’t start well; maybe a little bit slow. So I let go of the first set then [played] a little more aggressively. Sometimes I just had to close my eyes and hit the ball.”
Nishikori admitted that they both went through ups and downs over the two hours.
“Some service wasn’t there today,” Nishikori said. “[I need] a little bit more concentrating in the first few games. I didn’t start well in [last] two matches.”
The last two sets, though, were exercises in momentum.
Nishikori won the second on a double break, securing dominance at 4-0. He caught Cilic off balance running to his forehand side. He was 4-for-4 on break points saved. Although his overall serving percentage was 57, his second serve was good enough — at 40 percent of points won — to provoke errors.
“The last two sets I was very happy with my tennis,” Nishikori admitted. “Today I played much better tennis against him [than in the US Open final].”
The third set also began with a Nishikori break, but he lost the advantage with a double fault — which evened the match to 4-games all.
“I was up *4-3 and he came back,” Nishikori said. “So I had to concentrate again. It was really tough three sets. But I showed some great tennis, too. I think it was a great win for me.”
With both men headed to Rogers Cup in Montreal, their thoughts were clearly focused on the upcoming weeks.
“It was really good to get a win against a top 10 player,” Nishikori said. “And, especially against Marin. It’s great to have a bench[mark] today. I hope I can keep going tomorrow.”
Nishikori called the trainer twice. He took a medical time out in the second, which evoked notions of another injury for the Japanese. This time his left quadricep was massaged, looking as if it were tight.
“It should be okay,” he said. “Just my leg got tight. I’ve been playing four matches now, and especially with [these] conditions. But should be okay for tomorrow.”
Nishikori will face John Isner in Sunday’s final, as the American saved two match points to defeat his compatriot in a third-set tiebreak, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(9).
“I played John in Miami,” Nishikori began. “[He has] a very big serve with height. It bounces very high here. It’s not going to be an easy return.”
Belinda Bencic and Kristina Mladenovic Win Citi Open Doubles
In their first-ever pairing, Belinda Bencic and Kristina Mladenovic won the women’s doubles title at Citi Open, defeating Lara Arruabarrena and Andreja Klepac, 7-5, 7-6(7). They didn’t drop a set the entire tournament.
“I didn’t know her so well before,” Bencic began. “So I asked her if she was playing with anyone. I’m very happy we played and got to know each other. We’re really good friends now.”
Both knew they had to click right away because the draw is small.
“We understood each others game on the court,” Mladenovic said. “We didn’t know each other that well before, but we had a connection right away. We liked each other and had fun.”
The match was a close one. The champions were up in the second set, lost serve and had to scramble using good serving to overcome their opponents’ ground-game strengths.
“It was very close,” Bencic began. “I’m very glad to have Kiki. When one had a bad [moment] the other one was there for support. That made us strong today.”
Bencic and Mladenovic could not stop smiling after their victory. They would’ve entertained more questions from the scrum of press gathered outside Grandstand 1. They plan to celebrate on their flight to Toronto for Rogers Cup, and have a nice dinner when they arrive.
“We have a flight to catch in three hours,” Mladenovic began, laughing. “We’re flying to Toronto, so nice talking to you guys.”