Miami, Ricky Dimon @Dimonator
Kei Nishikori saved five match points before outlasting Gael Monfils 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3) in a semifinal thriller at the Miami Open on Thursday afternoon. Nishikori withstood 14 aces by his opponent and overcame six double-faults off his own racket to prevail after two hours and 29 minutes.
The high-quality roller-coaster ride saw Monfils recover from a break deficit in the deciding set. With momentum in hand, the world No. 16 put himself within one point of victory on five different occasions. He came close to converting his fourth chance when he tracked down a drop-shot and flicked it cross-court, but Nishikori answered with a winning volley.
“I felt good,” Monfils said when asked about the physical struggle of the third set. “I think I had to raise a bit my level to [hold] my serve at 1-3. Then I think at 3-4 I really raised my level. I think I [started] to be very aggressive, [started] to go for it, and still had the strong feeling that I can make it. At the end, I think I pushed very hard. Then definitely I [had] opportunity it close it out, but actually Kei played strong. He fought well. I think in the ‘breaker he was just better than me.”
It almost, of course, never got to a tiebreaker. Of Monfils’ five match points, four came with Nishikori serving at 4-5 and the last one at 5-6.
“Well, the first one [was] a good serve,” the Frenchman reflected. “Then the second one I [stepped] in, second serve. I [went] aggressive wide and I [missed] maybe (by) 30 or 40 centimeters. Then the third one; second serve. I didn’t go for it so much. I [went] in between, and then he had a very good forehand behind me. Then I think the last one is the one I thought I had…the drop-shot. I think actually this one was the closest one I had.”
“The match could [have gone] both ways,” Nishikori assured. “I was up a break and I had many [chances] to break again. I just [trired] to focus when I lost the game for 4-all. The tiebreak I was [trying] to be [focused] again. Yeah, did pretty good in (the) tiebreak.”
Next up for the world No. 6 is a second career meeting with Kyrgios, whom Nishikori defeated 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 last fall in Shanghai. It will be another contrast in temperaments for Kyrgios after he faced the mentally solid Milos Raonic on Thursday night.
Although the 20-year-old Australian is nothing short of combustible, himself, his trek through the Miami draw has mostly no-nonsense aside from a brief spat with the chair umpire during a fourth-round win over Andrey Kuznetsov. He has also refused to surrender a single set in four victories.
Kyrgios booked a spot in his first-ever Masters 1000 semifinal by upsetting Raonic 6-4, 7-6(4) in one hour and 44 minutes. The 24th seed fired eight aces and saved all five of the break points he faced.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Kyrgios commented. “Milos has played great the last couple of weeks; the only person he’s lost to is (Novak) Djokovic. I played really well out here. The crowd was a lot of fun; the atmosphere was really good. I thought the level of tennis was pretty good, as well.”