Nishioka on verge of matching Nishikori

Nishioka on verge of matching Nishikori

By STEVE DORSEY

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Yoshihito Nishioka raised his arms in exultation and flashed a big smile toward the stands early Saturday night after his three-set victory against Ugo Humbert in the semifinals of the ATP Tour’s Delray Beach Open sent him to his second career final. Nishioka became even more emotional several minutes later when he was informed that the win also guaranteed him a Top 50 world ranking.

“I was waiting for that. It was a very long time,” Nishioka said after pausing to digest the news following his roller-coaster 1-6, 6-4, 6-0 win against Humbert.

Nishioka had reached a career-high ATP world ranking of No. 58 about three years ago and was trending toward reaching the Top 50, an important goal of his. Soon after that, he sustained a left ACL injury at the Miami Open that put his tennis career on hold for a year and derailed his ascension toward the Top 50. He said he was told by several people that “they’ve never seen a men’s tennis player with an ACL coming back again to your best ranking.”

Nearly three years later, Nishioka, who arrived here this week ranked No. 63 in the world, will be playing Sunday for the Delray Beach Open title. He is the first Japanese player to reach the championship final here since Kei Nishikori won it in 2008.

“If I get the (championship) trophy, I want to show him,” Nishioka said of Nishikori. “It’s going to be very special for me.”

Nishioka’s win Saturday night was the third match he’s played this week in which he lost the first set before staging a comeback to win the next two sets. Humbert, the No. 6 seed here who is ranked No. 44 in the world, had won his second-round and quarterfinal matches in straight sets and appeared poised to make it a trifecta after breezing through the first set that included three breaks against Nishioka.

But a lengthy rain delay early in the second set gave Nishioka time to regroup. He broke Humbert’s serve in the decisive 10th game of the second set and dominated the third set to close the deal.

“After the rains came, I just focused again,” said Nishioka of his first meeting against Humbert. “After the first set, I just figured out how to play against him. If I can, I want to take (the first set), but if I lose, that’s okay.”

It’s certainly been a winning formula for Nishioka so far this week.

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