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Defending champ Nishikori reaches Memphis final

February 16, 2014

MEMPHIS, Tennessee (AP) — Kei Nishikori of Japan will defend his title at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships after beating American Michael Russell 6-3, 6-2 in the semifinals on Saturday.

Nishikori, who won his third career ATP title here last year, will play Ivo Karlovic in the final. The big-serving Croat advanced when Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan retired from their semifinal with a neck injury after losing the opening set 6-1.

“It’s going to be a tough opponent especially Ivo being indoors like this,” Nishikori said. “You don’t get many returns easy. But we’ll see.”

The top-seeded Japanese player went down an early break to the 35-year-old Russell in the first set, but broke back to level the score at 3-all and broke again to close out the set.

Russell had upset former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt to reach only his third career ATP semifinal. He was aiming for his first final.

Nishikori has been working with former French Open champion Michael Chang since December to try to crack into the top tier of men’s tennis. He’s been ranked as high as 11th but said the true test of being a top player comes with success in the Grand Slams. He has yet to get past a quarterfinal.

“I feel like I’m almost there, but ranking-wise I still have a lot of things to do,” Nishikori said.

The 6-foot-11 (2.10 meter) Karlovic has not been broken in 42 service games this week. He’s trying to capture his sixth career title and first since Bogota last year.

Lu said he was eating breakfast Saturday when his neck locked up on him. He received four treatments to loosen up enough to play Karlovic, but didn’t want to risk further injury to attempt to finish the match.

“When I knew he was hurting I just tried to put the ball in the court, and I was also a little bit lucky,” Karlovic said. “I mean for him I know that it is difficult to have to stop, but injuries are part of tennis. I know. I had a lot of them.”

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