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Late rally propels Nishikori to Citi Open title

By: Allan Blanks

Kei Nishikori battled John Isner's incredible serve and rallied back to win the Citi Open in three sets.

Kei Nishikori battled John Isner’s incredible serve and rallied back to win the Citi Open in three sets.

Big serves from John Isner were not enough, as Kei Nishikori rallied from one set down, to win the 2015 Citi Open Championship, 4­-6, 6­-4, 6­-4. The top-­seed generated 86 total points, nailed 100­-percent of his volleys, won 91-­percent of his first serves, and converted two breakpoints.

“I thought he played a pretty good match,” Isner said. “No panic for sure [John Isner never doubted himself], he (Nishikori) was running me around the court, and that’s what he does best.”

Monstrous returns, and devastating backhands from Nishikori, cracked the thunderous serve of Isner, in each of the final two sets.

“I returned very well,” Nishikori said. “I broke his (Isner’s) serve twice, and I was there all the time [to return serves].”

The top­-seeded Nishikori fired away 11 backhand winners, eight aces, and seven points to the forehand. Isner issued 18 aces, nine forehand winners, and one point to the backhand.

“I think I played good baseline tennis today,” Nishikori said. “The last match John was more aggressive, he was dominating me, and I tried to be a little more aggressive.”

The opening set belonged to Isner, as he narrowly outscored Nishikori 30­-27, in total points won. The American pounded the top­seed with six aces and 14 winners. For the contest, Isner posted 76 total points, 33 winners, and 23 unforced errors.

In the second set, Isner trailed two games to one and sought medical attention for his shoulder. The American confirmed that the timeout was precautionary, and not serious.

While Isner was vulnerable, Nishikori seized the moment to pull ahead 4­-2. The top­-seeded competitor targeted the backhand of Isner, and issued low­-lying shots across the net. This tactic was the gold standard used to combat the pulverizing power of the second seed.

However, nobody has developed a strategy for defending Isner’s serve. Time and again, the American has cheated defeat, with a wicked weapon, in which Citi Open has no remedy for. Isner served his way back into the contest, and faced a 5­-4, Nishikori lead.

Fearless and uncompromising, the top­-seeded contender refused to surrender, and unleashed a battery of penetrating forehands. No line was spared, as Nishikori went on cross­-court rampage, and bullied his opponent into submission. Nishikori kept the sure­footed Isner off balanced, and took the second set.

For the second straight contest, Isner was forced to do battle in a third set.

Serve aside, the greatest weapon Isner possessed was confidence. No matter the set, or opponent, the second seed had absolute belief he could conquer anyone at anytime. The American did just that. He opened the deciding set with powerful serves, and bruising groundstrokes.

Unfazed by Isner, Nishikori raised his game and replied violent forehands and steady service games.

“I don’t think I made enough end roads on his first serve,” Isner said. “A lot of times, I struggle with [Kei Nishikori’s serve], and I felt like he put a decent amount of first serves on the court. From there, he’s (Nishikori) arguably the best baseliner in the world.”

The top­-seed was no longer the aggressor, he transformed into the dictator. Nishikori stepped into the court and mounted approach shots. This level of play allowed the tournament favorite to sustain his serve and even the championship one game all.

Nishikori understood that holding serve wasn’t enough. In order to win the match, the top seed had to break the biggest weapon in the tournament. In the third game of the third set, Nishikori’s anticipation paid off, as he pushed serves back into play, and broke the tool that dismantled those before him.

“I was confident throughout [the match],” Isner said. “Getting down an early break in each of the last two sets, didn’t help because it allowed him (Nishikori) to play from ahead.”

Just as grabbed the break in the second set, Nishikori never relented his advantage in the closing set.

The top­-seed finished the contest in dramatic fashion, as he pushed Isner side­-to­-side and closed the match with a backhand volley to the opposite court.

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Allan Blanks

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