Washington - Japan's Kei Nishikori took a big step on his road back to the US Open final on Sunday by rallying to defeat John Isner and win the Washington Open title.
The 25-year-old Asian number one, last year's US Open runner-up, defeated American John Isner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to capture his 10th career title at the combined ATP and WTA hardcourt 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," Nishikori said. "I'm looking forward to playing again in the US Open. I'm excited to play again on the big stage."
Nishikori, who will rise one spot Monday to match his career high ranking of fourth in the world, won his third crown of the season after defending titles at Memphis and Barcelona.
Nishikori became the first Asian singles winner in the tournament's 47-year history despite connecting on only 59 percent of his first serves. He managed to win 42 of his 46 first-serve points despite 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."
Isner found himself foiled by Nishikori's first serves and the baseline game with which he backstopped them.
"I just didn't make enough inroads on his first serves," Isner 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."
Stephens wins first title
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," Stephens said.
Isner, who won his only prior meeting with Nishikori in April's Miami quarter-finals, will jump from 18th to 12th in Monday's rankings.
"I'm playing with a lot of confidence," Isner said.
It was Isner's third loss in a Washington final after falling to Andy Roddick in 2007 and Juan Martin Del Potro in 2013.
"Getting to the finals three times and not breaking through is disappointing, but I haven't lost to any slouches," Isner said. "Getting to the final is a good achievement but losing stinks."
Isner took the only break of the first set in the last game with a service return forehand winner down the line. Nishikori began the second set with a break, as Isner hit a forehand wide on break point, and held serve five times to force a third set.
"That was a big turning point for sure," Isner said. "He got up an early break and that gave him some momentum and confidence."
Nishikori jumped on a second serve for a return winner to break Isner, then held at love in three of his final four service games for the triumph.