HOUSTON – Japanese star Kei Nishikori is trying to inspire his tsunami-torn country.
Nishikori reached the second final of his ATP career Saturday with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas. Still, Nishikori's thoughts are never far from Japan.
"It's not like I can promise to win but I hope I can win tomorrow and give a little hope," Nishikori said.
Nishikori has several charity projects going to help tsunami victims.
"It is always on my mind but when it comes to a match I have to concentrate on one thing," Nishikori said.
Nishikori, the winner in 2008 at Delray Beach, will face American Ryan Sweeting on Sunday. Sweeting, a wild-card entry, advanced to his first ATP final with a 7-6 (3) 6-3 victory over Croatia's Ivo Karlovic.
If Nishikori wins the tournament, he will become the highest ranked Japanese player ever. Shuzo Matsuoka was ranked No. 46 on July 6, 1992.
"The ranking comes if I play well," Nishikori said. "I played great today. My serve was not well but otherwise, grinding a lot and it was hot and humid, but I think I battled through."
Nishikori hadn't lost his serve in the tournament until the fourth and sixth games of the second set when Cuevas made his big charge. Nishikori broke Cuevas in the fifth and 11th games and served for the match.
"He (Cuevas) had great returns so it happens," Nishikori said. "Sometimes, you don't hit the great serve every day."
Nishikori overcame two break points in the 12th game and put away Cuevas with a forehand winner at the second match point.
"It was a good week, I won three matches," Cuevas said. "It is good preparation for the European clay courts. I was happy to reach the semifinals this week but disappointed today."
Sweeting is the first wild card to reach the tournament final since Mardy Fish won in 2006. Fish is now the highest-ranked American. He was eliminated in the quarterfinals.
Karlovic, the 2007 U.S. Clay Court winner, wilted as Saturday's match progressed. On Friday, he needed more than three hours to beat John Isner.
There were no breaks in the first set although Sweeting had to escape three break points in the fourth game and Karlovic avoided one break point in the seventh game.
"At first you have the nerves in closing out a match but I feel like I've been in this position enough times to get good wins," Sweeting said. "I just concentrated on staying focused."
"It was crucial for me to get the first set. I gave him a little blow. He's such a big guy it's never each to come back. He seemed to struggle in the second set."
Karlovic had a 136 mph serve for a 3-2 lead in the tiebreaker. He didn't get another point and Sweeting closed it out with a strong forehand.
Karlovic was broken for only the third time in the tournament in the sixth game of the second set, giving Sweeting a 4-2 lead. Karlovic escaped one match point in the eighth game and finally ran out of steam in the ninth when his forehand volley sailed wide of the court to end the match.
Karlovic played his seventh match in eight days, including three qualifying matches to get into the main draw. He served 12 aces against Sweeting, giving him 56 for the tournament, four short of the record by Pete Sampras.
"It was hot and I was really tired," Karlovic said. "This morning I could not inhale normally. It was not easy but it was a good week. We'll see what is going on next.
"You can't count a lot on one match. Today, I was not my best."