In a rematch of last year's US Open final, Marin Cilic of Croatia and Kei Nishikori of Japan will face each other in the semi-finals of the Citi Open in Washington, DC, on Saturday, exactly 11 months to the day since their title match in New York City.
Reigning US Open champion Cilic moved into the final four of the tune-up tournament for the US open 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 Australian Sam Groth's big serve twice for a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
On September 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."
Nishikori said, "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 is the first time the Citi Open field included both men's finalists from the previous year's US Open. "Win or lose," Cilic said, "it's going to give me a lot of feedback for my game."
In the other half of the draw, eighth-seeded John Isner - twice the runner-up in Washington - delivered 20 aces and defeated Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. Isner's 52-game streak of service holds ended with a break at love to drop the second set, but he quickly rebounded, grabbing a 3-0 lead in the third. In an all-American semi-final, Isner will face 55th-ranked Steve Johnson, who beat yet another American, 15th-seeded Jack Sock, 7-6 (5), 6-1 in Friday's last match.
The fifth-ranked Nishikori got to his sixth ATP semi-final of the year and improved to 41-9 in 2015. Only world number one Novak Djokovic and world number three Andy Murray have won more matches this season, with 48 apiece. Number eight Cilic, meanwhile, is only 17-10 and this will be his second semi-final 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 quarter-finals, 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur advanced when Monica Niculescu of Romania 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 American 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 semi-final will be top-seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova against countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Marakova beat sixth-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, while Pavlyuchenkova edged American Christina McHale 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5).