Houston: Japan's Kei Nishikori advanced to the second final of his career by beating Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-5 in the semi-finals of the ATP Tour's US Clay Court Championships on Saturday.
Sixth-seeded Nishikori put away Uruguay's Cuevas with a forehand winner on the second match point to reach the final, where he will face American wild card Ryan Sweeting.
"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 said.
The 21-year-old Nishikori broke seventh seeded Cuevas in the fifth and 11th games of the second set before serving for the match.
Nishikori is hoping that a victory in Sunday's final will help bring awareness to the charities he has set up to help the victims in the wake of his homeland's earthquake/tsunami disaster.
"It's not like I can promise to win, but I hope I can win tomorrow and give a little hope," said Nishikori. "It is always on my mind but when it comes to a match I have to concentrate on one thing."
World number 61 Nishikori had two aces and three double faults and won 71 percent of first serve points to reach his first final since winning at Delray Beach three years ago.
A win over Sweeting would make Nishikori the highest ranked Japanese player in history, moving him past Shuzo Matsuoka who in 1992 reached 46 in the world.
"The ranking comes if I play well," Nishikori said.
Sweeting advanced to his first ATP final with a 7-6 (7/3) 6-3 win over hard-serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic.
Sweeting is the first wild card to reach the tournament final since Mardy Fish did it in 2006. American No. 1 and top seed Fish was sent crashing out of the tournament by Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
Sweeting sealed his win with a blistering forehand against Karlovic, who looked tired after needing more than three hours to beat John Isner in Friday's quarter-final.
"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 focussed.
"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, the winner here in 2007, did hammer one serve 219 kph (136 mph) to take a 3-2 lead in the first set tiebreaker. Karlovic was playing his seventh match in eight days.
"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.
"Today was not my best."
Karlovic escaped one match point in the eighth game of the second set and had his serve broken for just the third time in the event in the sixth game of the second.
He finished with 56 aces for the tournament, four shy of Pete Sampras' tournament record.
Nishikori won his only previous match against Sweeting earlier this year at Delray Beach.