Marin Cilic sent a strong message to fellow contenders in the Emirates ATP Race To London, powering to the Swiss Indoors Basel title on Sunday.
The fourth-seeded Croatian downed Kei Nishikori 6-1, 7-6(5), riding his dominant serve and potent forehand to victory after one hour and 37 minutes. Cilic notched his 16th tour-level title and second of the year. Two months after capturing his maiden ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown in Cincinnati (d. Murray), he earned his first title at the 500 level.
Cilic strengthened his position among the final two players looking to secure bids at the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, boosting his point total to 3,090 in the Emirates ATP Race To London. Currently in the final qualification position, having passed Tomas Berdych on Saturday, he will look to have a strong week at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris to book his spot at The O2 in London for a second time.
Cilic was unflappable from the baseline on Sunday at the St. Jakobshalle, maintaining an aggressive game plan to penetrate Nishikori's defences.
The Croatian launched an effective body serve at the Japanese to claim the first set in just 25 minutes and continued his assault in the second set, earning a pair of break points in both the sixth and eighth games. Nishikori did well to save them all, striking a sublime charging backhand cross at 3-3, but Cilic proved to be too strong in the end. The 28 year old would save three set points at 5-4, denying Nishikori his first break of the match and sending the encounter to a second set tie-break.
A deft volley winner from just inside the service line secured the decisive mini-break for Cilic, who would emerge victorious when Nishikori struck his second double fault at 6-5.
"I knew it was going to be important for me to start well," said Cilic. "Obviously it was a big match for me. Being in the final of a 500 tournament against someone like Kei, who has been playing good tennis during the week, I knew it was going to be important to have energy straight away. I was playing well in the first set, with my shotmaking and I was serving smart.
"I felt that even during most of the second set I was playing well and creating opportunities for myself. In those situations you can expect a player like Kei will try and create his own opportunities. I did well to fight off his chances. At the end of the set, his game was rising and it was quite a good battle."
Cilic fired 28 winners, including six aces, narrowing his deficit in their FedEx ATP Head2Head to 7-5. It was their second meeting of the year, with the Croatian previously prevailing on the lawns of Wimbledon, and their second encounter in a tour-level final, following their 2014 US Open clash, also won by Cilic.
In total, Cilic held serve in 52 of 53 service games en route to the title. He takes home €387,100 in prize money, in addition to 500 points in the Emirates ATP Race To London. Nishikori, meanwhile, earns €181,800 in prize money and 300 points. He has already secured his place at the season finale for a third straight year. Making his 20th appearance in a tour-level final, the Japanese fell to 11-9 overall and 1-4 this year.
"In the second set, I was a little tight," said Nishikori. "I had a couple set points and couldn't convert. He played good tennis today.
"It was a good week for me, playing another final. I had some good wins. It will be important to have another good week in Paris and again in London. That will be my last goal of the year." (http://www.atpworldtour.com/en/news/basel-2016-final-cilic-nishikori)