WASHINGTON • Japan's Kei Nishikori took a big step on his road back to the US Open final by rallying to defeat John Isner and win the Washington Open title on Sunday.
The 25-year-old Asian No. 1, last year's US Open runner-up, defeated American Isner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to capture his 10th career tennis title at the combined ATP and WTA hard-court event, a warm-up for the US Open fortnight that starts in three weeks.
"I'm sure this win will help me a lot. It's important for me to play good tennis this summer," he said. "I'm looking forward to playing again in the US Open. I'm excited to play again on the big stage."
Nishikori, who rose one spot yesterday to match his career-high world ranking of fourth, won his third crown of the season after retaining titles at Memphis and Barcelona.
He became the first Asian singles winner in the tournament's 47-year history despite connecting on only 59 per cent of his first serves. He managed to win 42 of his 46 first-serve points in spite of only five aces to Isner's 18.
"I returned really well," Nishikori said. "I had to guess sometimes but I was there all the time and it was a great winning percentage on my first serve.
"I've been returning really well this week and winning a lot of matches like this. It's never easy against these big servers but I'm playing well against these guys."
Perhaps the Japanese star's success in hindering Isner's conversion rate stemmed from having faced and defeated other notable servers during the week: Marin Cilic in the semis in a rematch of last year's US Open final and before him Australian up-and-comer Sam Groth.
Isner found himself foiled by Nishikori's first serves and the baseline game. "I just didn't make enough inroads on his first serves," the 30-year-old said. He put a decent number of first serves in and from there he is arguably the best in the world from the baseline.
"His backhand is world class. He's very talented and very skilled. He knows what he's doing with the ball. He's gifted with talent and he works his tail off. He's a great player and a great champion."
In the women's final, American Sloane Stephens won her first WTA title, defeating Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1, 6-2.
Stephens, ranked five spots ahead of her rival at 35th, had been the highest-ranked player never to reach a WTA final before doing so this week in her 84th tour event.
"It has been an amazing week and something I will never forget," the 22-year-old said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS