Rafael Nadal’s loss earlier in the week was the big story of the Citi Open in Washington, but it opened up the draw for Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who advanced to his first ATP semi-final in more than 2 years by defeating the Spaniard’s vanquisher, South Africa’s 50th-ranked Lloyd Harris, 6-3 7-5 on Friday.
I started almost too good at the beginning. Things got tight after that. Second set was up and down. I saved well with good serve. It could go both ways but I took some chances and very happy with how I played the last game. Kei Nishikori
Nishikori had lost 6 consecutive tour-level quarter-finals, including one to Harris in March at Dubai but, this time, he convincingly dispatched the 24-year-old.
“Every match I’ve been playing well but especially today, I played very good,” Nishikori said. “This feeling, I hope I can carry couple more weeks until US Open.
“This makes me great confidence. I hope I can keep going two more matches.”
The World No 67 will face 107th-ranked Mackenzie McDonald, who eliminated fellow American Denis Kudla, 6-3 6-2, for a berth in Sunday’s final on the Washington hard courts.
Saturday’s other semi-final will set 20-year-old American wild-card Jenson Brooksby against 24th-ranked Italian 19-year-old Jannik Sinner.
Nishikori, the 2015 Washington champion, arrived after a Tokyo Olympic quarter-final loss to top-ranked Novak Djokovic and battled jet lag when the week began.
“I was tired coming from Japan. It wasn’t easy,” Nishikori admitted. “But I got a couple days’ rest and I managed to fight through the first couple rounds.
“I’ve been serving well this week. I make a good rhythm with my serve and that makes a huge difference.”
Now the 31-year-old Japanese, the 2014 US Open runner-up, will play in his first semi-final since April 2019 at Barcelona.
Nishikori could reach his first ATP final since taking the most recent of his 12 career titles in January 2019 at Brisbane.
Harris spectacularly upset 20-time Grand Slam champion Nadal in the Spaniard’s second comeback match after a two-month layoff with a foot injury.
On Friday, however, the South African double-faulted away a break in the opening game and Nishikori broke again on his way to a 4-0 lead before claiming the set after 45 minutes.
In a back-and-forth second set, Harris saved match points with an ace and service winner but misfired on a Nishikori’s 3rd match point to fall.
“I started almost too good at the beginning,” Nishikori said. “Things got tight after that. Second set was up and down. I saved well with good serve. It could go both ways but I took some chances and very happy with how I played the last game.”
Nishikori’s next opponent, McDonald, who is seeking his first ATP final, reached his only prior semi-final in 2019 at Delray Beach.
In the lower half of the draw, Sinner ousted American Steve Johnson, 6-4 6-2, to become Washington’s first Italian semi-finalist in 25 years, and he could become the first Italian finalist in the event’s 52-year history.
A 2020 French Open quarter-finalist, Sinner seeks his 3rd ATP title after Sofia last November and Melbourne in January, but first he must get past Brooksby, who has not dropped a set all week.
“He’s a very tricky player,” Sinner said. “He’s maybe in the best moment of his young career, playing the best tennis. He’s really, really in confidence.”
Brooksby, ranked 130th, became the lowest-ranked Washington semi-finalist since 416th-rated John Isner in 2007, by routing Australian 11th seed John Millman, 6-1 6-2.
The American made a fast start in the first set, stepping inside the baseline as he overpowered the Australian with his explosive groundstrokes, looking to hit his backhand down the line and closing out an impressive set when Millman fired a forehand wide.
Brooksby continued to play impressively in the second, demonstrating his defensive skills to frustrate the Aussie.
After racing to a 4-1 lead, he fended off a break point in the 5th game before closing out his victory by breaking Millan for the 5th time in the match.
”He is going to make you work hard but I know I am physical and I started really strongly in the first set,” said Brooksby, who will rise into the Top 100 next week. “I sort of lost focus at times in the second set but that is part of it. I was still able to stay positive throughout.
“Starting strong is my mentality. It means the preparation up to it [the match] is good.
“What I need to work on the most is when it gets later on in matches. It was harder today [with the heat], but I am in good shape.”
Brooksby has yet to drop a set this week, defeating 16th seed Frances Tiafoe before upsetting Canada’s 15th-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime, the 2nd seed, on Thursday for his first victory over a top-50 foe.
British 3-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray tweeted: “Brooksby is the sort of player I love to watch…lots of variety..high tennis IQ….great in defence..”
“That’s great words to hear from Andy,” Brooksby said. “He has been one of the best in the sport and a great guy to look up to. That means a lot.”
While Brooksby’s run is a surprise, he hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere – 3 years ago he beat Brandon Nakashima for the USTA 18-and-under title in Kalamazoo, and 2 years ago he took out Tomas Berdych in the first round at the US Open while, in 2021, he has won 3 Challenger titles and reached the final in Newport.
“I have definitely gotten mentally tougher this year, and it’s only kept improving,” Brooksby said this week. “I just really love, truly love playing on these stages. No opponent will faze me. I can compete with anyone.”