Citi Open: Nishioka Almost Didn’t Come To Washington, Now He’s In the Final

Yoshihito Nishioka (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 7, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

By any stretch of the imagination, it’s been an amazing week  at the Citi Open for Yoshihito Nishioka. Consider this: Nishioka pulled off a stunning 6-3, 6-4 upset of the tournament’s top seed, World No. 8 Andrey Rublev, Saturday night to reach his first ATP 500 final.

The 26-year-old Nishioka, who hails from Tsu, Japan, a city in the Kansai region on the island of Honshu, almost stayed home and didn’t make the 11,124-kilometer journey to Washington, D.C. Now, he’s glad got on the airplane and crossed an ocean to be here.

Nishioka will take on crowd favorite and 2019 Citi Open champion Nick Kyrgios as he strives to win his first ATP Tour title in more than two years.

“After COVID started, I haven’t, like, good time on the Tour, and my motivation it was going down,” Nishioka explained during a Saturday night press conference after his victory against Rublev. “Even this year, I played not that great. So, I really feel like some days I don’t want to play tennis.”

Nishioka, who has divided his time between playing on Tour and in ATP Challenger Tour events, went back home after reaching the quarterfinals of the Rome Challenger in the U.S. in mid July, following Wimbledon, to do some reflecting. “I’m thinking like I’m not gonna play in this tournament,” he recalled.

However, Nishioka got selected for the 48-player Citi Open main draw and came to the nation’s capital city in the United States, where he has put together a remarkable week to kick off the North American hard-court swing leading up to the US Open later this month. “That’s why I came here,” he said.

Just how well has the diminutive, 5-foot-6 Nishioka fared on the Rock Creek Tennis Center courts this week? Well, he’s won five straight matches against all comers. First, Nishioka beat Atlanta Open finalist Jenson Brooksby in the opening round on Tuesday and followed it up with a win over Atlanta Open champ Alex de Minaur, who was the Citi Open’s 11th seed, the next day.

Then, in Thursday’s third round, Nishioka took out No. 7 seed Karen Khachanov ahead of the thunderstorms, and continued his string of good fortune with a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over No. 16 seed Daniel Evans on Friday that lasted a grueling three hours and 49 minutes.

On Saturday evening against Rublev, Nishioka gained his third career victory against a Top 10 player and it sent him to his first tour-level final since February 2020 at Delray Beach, also on a hard-court surface.

“I knew Andrey was going to play aggressive against me, so I needed to play aggressive, too,” Nishioka said during his on-court interview. “I wasn’t afraid of mistakes.”

Although Nishioka was broken twice by Rublev, he broke the Russian’s serve four times in five opportunities, won 45 percent of his return points and outpointed Rublev 62-51.

Later, while meeting tournament media, Nishioka expressed his amazement.

“I can’t believe I’m in the final right now,” he said. “You know, I think that maybe sometimes you need to be relaxed like this. Just come here and play the tournament, and then I don’t have to get pressures and don’t think that much.

“Maybe, that’s helpful for my tennis. Maybe, and then I think that’s a big reason to make [the] final here.”

Nishioka was asked to describe what has been special about his week in Washington, in which he’s arguably played the best stretch of tennis in his pro career, and put him in contention for his second ATP Tour title in his third final after winning in 2018 at Shenzhen, then losing the 2020 Delray Beach final.

“Yeah, I mean, before the first day started, I couldn’t believe I’m starting on final,” Nishioka said. “I know Brooksby, many things about his tennis.We know each other, and also de Minaur, Evans. I never lost [to] them, so I had confidence to play them. Khachanov, I never beat him, and also Rublev, which is [a] very tough opponent and had good time this year as well.

“Well, I think I wasn’t thinking that much. Actually, like some days I don’t care [whether I] win or lose, just play the tennis and we will see how it’s going. You know, so between the match, I don’t get so tight. That’s a big, big support, my tennis in this tournament.”

Nishioka’s five Washington wins have leveled his season win-loss record at 10-10, while in all competitions (including Tour, Challengers and qualifying) he’s 33-17. He said that although at times he’s felt tired from the grind that comes with playing in a 500-level event, with back-to-back matches on consecutive days, he just keeps on fighting. He’s had plenty of fan support throughout the week.

“Just focus on the fighting … that’s a big reason I’m winning against big opponents,” he said.

Although Nishioka admits being the underdog against Kyrgios, whom he is 0-3 lifetime, including a 6-2, 7-5 loss to the Australian in the second round at Washington in 2019 – and someone he’s known since he was a 14-year-old teenager – he welcomes it. If he wins, Nishioka can move up 54 spots in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to No. 42.

“You know, Kyrgios is Kyrgios,” Nishioka said, smiling. “He can do whatever he wants. I just have to be enjoying the final against him,” Nishioka said.

“If I have chances, if I get it, maybe I have a chance to win. If I don’t, maybe I lose.

“So, we’ll see how it’s going, and then just enjoy the day.”

Krygios can make Citi Open history Sunday

Never in the 53-year history of the Citi Open has a men’s champion won both the singles and doubles titles in the same week. On Sunday, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios has a chance to pull off the feat, after having reached the title matches of both singles and in doubles, with partner Jack Sock of the United States.

Kyrgios addressed the topic during a late-night press conference Saturday, after he and Sock reached the doubles final with a 3-6, 6-2, 10-6 win over Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both from France.

“Look, for me, if I am able to take home the trophy tomorrow in both the events, it’s probably going to be my favorite week of my career so far. It’s going to overtake the Wimbledon final, for sure,” Kyrgios said.

“I don’t think it’s been done too many times where someone has collected both singles and doubles trophies – never here – so that’s something that’s going to be super special to me.

“I think I could have easily pulled the pin on doubles tonight and gone home and gotten that rest under my belt and gone into singles as fresh as possible, but it was actually a goal this week to me to go after the doubles title as well with Jack.

“I told him at the start of the week I felt like we could do it. He was asking me, ‘Are you feeling okay for singles.’

“I was like, ‘Bruh, I want to play doubles. I want to do both.’

“This is going to be right up there if I’m able to do both.”

By the numbers

Nick Kyrgios is through to the final of consecutive tour-level tournaments for the first time in his career. If he wins the Citi Open, it will be his first ATP Tour victory since 2019 at the same event. Overall, Kyrgios is seeking his seventh tour-level title in his 11th final.

Kyrgios began the week ranked World No. 63. By reaching the Citi Open final, he’s up to No. in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. If Kyrgios win the title over Nishioka on Sunday, he will climb to No. 37.

“Quotable …”

“I played five incredibly tough matches to get here, and I feel like Nishioka has played just as hard players – and he deserves to be in the final. You know, the players he’s beat this week are really, really tough players: Evans, Rublev, Khachanov, Brooksby, de Minaur won Atlanta. So, he’s obviously playing really good tennis to beat those guys. I’ve got to be in fine form.”

Nick Kyrgios, from his Saturday night post-match press conference, in describing Yoshihito Nishioka, whom he will play in Sunday’s Citi Open final.