Japan’s Kei Nishikori saved five match points to down Gael Monfils on Thursday and advance to a semi-final showdown with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios at the ATP and WTA Miami Open.
Two-time Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova reached the women’s final with straight-set triumphs, but the top drama came in sixth seed Nishikori’s 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3) victory over the French 16th seed.
Nishikori denied Monfils four times in the 10th game of the final set and again in the 12th before taking the last three tie-breaker points to end a tension-packed thriller after two hours and 29 minutes.
“I thought, ‘That’s it. It’s going to be tough to come back,’“ Nishikori said. “But I tried to play one good point at a time. I had to focus to come back and I did it.”
Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up, will play Friday for a berth in Sunday’s final against 24th seed Kyrgios, who ousted Canadian 12th seed Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (4).
“I have to return well whenever possible to get on his serve,” Nishikori said. “That’s going to be the key for sure.”
Kyrgios, at 20, will become the youngest player in the world top 20 since 2009 on Monday.
“It’s pretty cool. I’m happy with that,” Kyrgios said. “But there’s 19 guys in front of me.”
Coming off his first ATP title in February at Marseille, Kyrgios is into his first ATP Masters Series semi-final but must face a veteran in Nishikori, who won their only prior meeting last year in Shanghai.
“It’s exciting to play one of the best players in the world,” Kyrgios said. “He has got an unbelievable return of serve, moves unbelievably fast. It’s going to be a tough match.”
Top-ranked defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays Belgian 15th seed David Goffin in the other semi-final.
Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion from Belarus, defeated reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-2, 7-5, exacting revenge for her loss to the German in the quarterfinals in Melbourne. 30-year-old Russian Kuznetsova, the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open champion, beat Swiss 19th seed Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-3.
“It’s a final so anything can happen. It’s a match where you give it all,” Azarenka said. “She is such a talented player. It’s going to be a challenge but I’m ready for it.”
Kuznetsova and Azarenka have split eight career meetings, but Azarenka has won the past three without dropping a set, most recently in the 2013 Australian Open semis.
“Vika, she is doing amazing,” Kuznetsova said. “She is extremely prepared, playing really confident, taking all her chances.”
Nishikori stands strong
Monfils had three early match points in the 10th game, only to fire errant backhands each time, and Nishikori rescued a fourth with a forehand winner, then saved a fifth in the 12th game with a forehand winner, setting up the tie-breaker.
Trailing 4-3 in the tie-breaker, Monfils netted a forehand volley and sent another forehand long before Nishikori ended it with a forehand winner.
“I had the opportunity to close it out but Kei played strong,” Monfils said. “He fought well. In the breaker, he was just better than me.”
Kyrgios took the only break of his match in the opening game when Raonic hit a forehand wide.
“I came out energetic and got the break,” Kyrgios said. “That got me more relaxed. I played really well.”
Kyrgios held serve through the first set and won the tie-breaker when Raonic netted forehands on the last two points.
“He came up with big shots in the important moments,” Raonic said. “And that’s what it came down to.”
Azarenka seeks US double
Azarenka, ranked eighth, improved to 7-1 against Kerber by breaking the second seed three times in the first set and four in the second.
“I kept pounding and trying to break her rhythm,” Azarenka said. “I’m glad I stayed really strong.”
Azarenka, the 2009 and 2011 Miami champion, will crack the world top five for the first time since May 2014 and could become only the third woman to win Miami and Indian Wells back-to-back after Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996 and Kim Clijsters in 2005.
Kuznetsova, the 2006 Miami winner, ousted top-ranked Serena Williams in the fourth round while Azarenka downed Williams in the Indian Wells final.
Kuznetsova, at 19th, is the lowest-ranked Miami finalist since 2005, but she would jump into the world top 10 for the first time since May 2010 by taking the title.