WASHINGTON (AP) — Exactly 11 months after meeting in the U.S. Open final, Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori will face each other again on a hard court.
This time, it’ll be in Saturday’s semifinals of the Citi Open, a tuneup event for the year’s last Grand Slam tournament.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Cilic moved into the final four in Washington for the first time since 2010 by beating 18-year-old Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Friday.
Earlier, the second-seeded Nishikori withstood 15 aces and managed to break Sam Groth’s big serve twice for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
On Sept. 8, 2014, Cilic beat Nishikori in straight sets at Flushing Meadows, the only Grand Slam title match for either. They have not played each other since.
“Emotions-wise, it’s going to be completely different. For the Slam final, we were both pretty nervous,” the third-seeded Cilic said. “I’m going to, for sure, take out some things, some critical things, that were working for me to be able to get the win.”
Said Nishikori: “For me, it’s great motivation to play Marin.”
“I’m sure that I am a better player than last year,” added Nishikori, the only Japanese man to participate in a major final. “I think I have more patience and (am) a more solid baseline player and I try to be a little more aggressive than before.”
This the first time the Citi Open field included both men’s finalists from the previous year’s U.S. Open.
“Win or lose,” Cilic said, “it’s going to give me a lot of feedback for my game.”
The men’s quarterfinals on the other half of the draw were scheduled for Friday night: No. 8 John Isner of the United States vs. Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania, and No. 15 Jack Sock vs. Steve Johnson in an all-American matchup.
For the fifth-ranked Nishikori, this is his sixth ATP semifinal of the year. He improved to 41-9 in 2015; only No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray have won more matches, with 48 apiece.
No. 8 Cilic, meanwhile, is only 17-10 and this will be his second semifinal of the season. He missed a chunk of time, including the Australian Open, because of an injured right shoulder.
“His game is more consistent than mine is. That’s the reality,” Cilic said. “Still, for me, I feel that my form can go up. It’s on the way up. So that’s a very positive thing. We’ll see tomorrow how things are going to play out.”
Against Groth, Nishikori saved all four break points he faced en route to reaching the semifinals for the first time in five appearances in Washington.
He also managed to successfully deal with Groth’s serves just often enough.
“Some of them I couldn’t really see,” Nishikori said. “When it was 145 or 147 (mph), even if I guessed, it was too fast, so it wasn’t easy to return.”
In the women’s quarterfinals, 2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur advanced when Monica Niculescu stopped playing because of a left abdominal strain while trailing 4-0.
“It seemed like straightaway, something wasn’t right with her,” said Stosur, adding that while she never wants to take advantage of an opponent’s injury, she was “not going to complain” about spending less than a half-hour on court.
Stosur faces Sloane Stephens on Saturday. Stephens picked up a 6-4, 6-4 victory over 19-year-old wild-card entry Louisa Chirico.
The other women’s semifinal will be No. 1-seeded Ekaterina Makarova against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Marakova beat No. 6 Irina-Camelia Begu 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, while Pavlyuchenkova edged Christina McHale 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5).