Benoit Paire beats Nishikori and will face Wawrinka

Tennis Updates:

Benoit Paire held his nerve on Saturday to record the fourth Top 10 win of his career for a place in the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships final. Paire, who captured his first ATP World Tour title at Bastad (d. Robredo) in July, will now challenge his good friend, Stan Wawrinka, the top seed. Wawrinka leads Paire 4-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.

Paire came back from a slow start to beat second seed Kei Nishikori, the two-time champion, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 to silence the Japanese support at the Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo.

Paire, who will now contest his fourth ATP World Tour final (1-2 record) also beat Nishikori last month in the US Open first round.

“Kei was playing unbelievably well in the first set,” said Paire. “I couldn’t do anything, he made no mistakes. He wasn’t missing and hitting every ball on the line. The only thing I could do was stay focused and try to hold my serve. That’s what I did and I began to build my confidence. But then I think he began to feel to the pressure. In the third set, it was different. I was playing very well, aggressively and serving well. I think I was better in the third set.”

The loss denies Nishikori the opportunity to strengthen his claims for one of the four remaining spots at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 15-22 November. Rafael Nadal has risen one spot, usurping Nishikori at No. 6 in the Emirates ATP Race To London, with his run to this week’s China Open final in Beijing.

Nishikori took a 3-0 lead in the 21-minute first set, breaking a second time in the sixth game and seemingly having the answer to everything Paire threw at him.

The second set was more competitive with neither player giving away any half chances. Paire had strapped applied around his left ankle after the fifth game, then, at 3-3, saved five break points in a 20-point game.

Paire grew in confidence and on leading 5-4 his moment came. Although he could not convert two set point opportunity on Nishikori’s serve from 15/40, he struck a stunning backhand winner down the line on his third chance to take the pair’s fourth meeting to a decider.

The breakthrough was the catalyst as Paire took a 3-0 lead in the third set, courtesy of breaking Nishikori in a 12-point second game. Paire went on to save one break point at 4-2, 30/40 with an ace down the middle, which proved to be Nishikori’s last chance. At 2-5, 30/40, Paire’s first match point, the 2012 and 2014 titlist could not successfully scramble back a second deep forehand and struck a lob long.

Paire hit 11 aces and saved seven of nine break points, regrouping from winning just seven of his service points in the first set, to improve to a 23-14 match record on the season.

The 25-year-old Nishikori, now 17-6 lifetime at the future tennis venue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, had been looking to reach his 16th final. He is now 51-12 on the year, the fourth best ATP World Tour match wins record in 2015. His wait on qualifying for the London season finale continues. Next week, he has been drawn to play Nick Kyrgios or Andreas Haider-Maurer in the Shanghai Rolex Masters second round.


About Boyan Vasilev

Soccer, Tennis and Volleyball writer

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