Unseeded Frenchman Adrian Mannarino stunned top seed Marin Cilic 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-0 on Saturday to book his place in the Japan Open final against Belgium’s David Goffin.
World No. 31 Mannarino, who lost to Yuichi Sugita in the final of the Antalya Open in July in his only previous title match on the ATP Tour this season, dropped the first set in a tiebreak against world No. 5 Cilic but came roaring back in the second to take the match to a decisive third set at Ariake Colosseum.
Mannarino then proceeded to demolish the Wimbledon runner-up to book his place in Sunday’s final against world No. 11 Goffin, who outlasted Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (8-6) in the day’s first semifinal.
“I’ve been working really hard lately with my coach, and seeing all that work pay off is a really good feeling,” said Mannarino, who lost to Cilic in their only previous meeting on the tour.
“Two weeks ago, I was playing in St. Petersburg and I lost a tough match in the first round after leading easily, and I remember that night it was really tough. I couldn’t get any sleep. And then I have days like today to really enjoy and see what I’m working for. I’m really happy.”
Cilic looked to have nipped Mannarino’s challenge in the bud when he clinched the first set with an ace in the tiebreak, but the Frenchman dug in and broke the big-serving Croatian to take a 5-3 lead in the second.
Cilic then fell apart in the third set, and after staving off one match point with an ace, the 2014 U.S. Open champion double faulted to hand Mannarino the match.
“I think I played quite solid, but maybe today I wasn’t serving as well as the last few days,” said Cilic. “I wasn’t getting as many free points and we ended up having to play rallies. Adrian was playing really well from the back and it was tough to open up the court.
“Overall I felt that I played quite a good match. I had some chances with a couple of break points and missed a couple of balls. He stayed in the match and he was getting some opportunities toward the end of the second set.”
No. 4 seed Goffin, who lost to Nick Kyrgios in last year’s final, had to work hard in the face of a determined challenge from No. 8 seed Schwartzman, who chased after every ball and gave the Belgian problems with his pace and power.
But Goffin, who claimed the title at last week’s Shenzhen Open, eventually prevailed to stretch his personal winning streak to eight matches and earn his place in Sunday’s final.
“Today was a tough match,” said Goffin, who holds a 2-0 career record over Mannarino. “I think we have a similar game. It’s always important when you feel that. It’s such a nice battle and a great fight, and at the end you know that it’s a great match. We’re both playing our best tennis and when you win the match you feel proud. It gives you a lot of confidence.”
Goffin started the match with two straight aces but failed to shake off Schwartzman in the first set until the tiebreak.
The Belgian then claimed the first break of the match when he went 3-2 up in the second set, and looked to be steadily edging toward victory until Schwartzman broke back to tie it at 5-5.
The set then headed to another tiebreak, where Schwartzman fended off one match point at 6-5.
But a double fault by the Argentine handed Goffin another chance, and this time the Belgian took it when Schwartzman hit his return long.
“When you’ve won a lot of matches, you know how to play the important moments,” said Goffin, who is projected to return to the top 10 when the new rankings are released on Monday, and could rise as high as eighth.
“You know what you have to do. You have a great feeling on the court, you have the confidence, you know what you’re going to do. You know when to go for the shots, when to play solid. It’s really clear in your head.”
Mannarino is aiming for his first career title in what will be his fourth final, but he acknowledges that Goffin will start as the favorite.
“He’s playing really well at the moment,” Mannarino said of Goffin. “He’s a really tough player. He got injured this year but when he’s 100 percent, he’s a top-10 player. So it’s not going to be easy. I’m not the favorite but I’ll just step on court and try to do my best.”