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By Chris Oddo | Saturday April 21, 2018

Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori won his fourth three-setter of the week to set a final showdown with the King of Clay in Monte-Carlo.

Photo Source: Julian Finney/Getty

Kei Nishikori has announced himself as a force on the clay in 2018. The 28-year-old Japanese star has raised his level just over a month after returning to the tour due to a long hiatus forced by a right wrist injury.

More: Nadal Rolls Past Dimitrov and into 12th Monte-Carlo Final

On Saturday he outlasted No.3-seeded Alexander Zverev in a thrilling encounter, claiming the final two games of the match to emerge with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory and book his spot in the Monte-Carlo final for the first time.

“Happy to be back in a Masters 1000 final again,” said Nishikori. “It was a tough match again, playing a long three sets but I think I was playing very good all three sets and he was also, so it was a very good match for both of us.”
After dropping the opener, Nishikori squandered an early break lead in the second set but he soon recovered it and took the final three games of the set to force a decider.

The third set presented opportunities for both but Nishikori saved all three break points he face before mounting a furious attack with Zverev serving at 4-5 to take control. Zverev had game point for 5-5 but Nishikori came up with inspired tennis to earn match point, and converted immediately when Zverev shanked a backhand wide.

Nishikori used a steady diet of drop shots and routinely changed directions on his groundstrokes from the baseline, pulling the powerful German to and fro while carefully avoiding pulling the trigger too soon.

“On the clay I think I have to use more,” said Nishikori. “And I have to use different variety—I was mixing drop shots, topspin, slice, you know every shot I think I was using well today.”

Nishikori will face a much tougher challenge on Sunday when he meets Rafael Nadal for the 11th time overall and third on clay. Nadal owns the 9-2 edge (2-0 on clay) but Nishikori did take a set from Nadal in the 2014 Madrid final.

“He’s been playing amazing this week, dominating all the matches, against good players,” said Nishikori.

Nadal wasn’t in his best form on Saturday but that didn’t stop him from breezing past Grigor Dimitrov, 6-4, 6-1 to reach his 12th Monte-Carlo final. The Spaniard has dropped just 16 games this week and he stretched his personal-best streak of consecutive sets won on clay to 34.

The Spaniard is bidding for a record 11th title at Monte-Carlo, and a 31st Masters 1000 title.

Nishikori is 0-3 lifetime in Masters 1000 finals, and he is playing his first since 2016—his first on clay since 2014.


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