The Japanese star, who remains in the hunt for a Nitto ATP Finals qualification spot, won 74 per cent of first-serve points to maintain his unbeaten FedEx ATP Head2Head record (8-0) against the Kazakh qualifier. If Nishikori lifts his first trophy since 2016 Memphis on Sunday, he will move to within 125 points of the eighth and final qualification place in the ATP Race To London.
With 40 tour-level victories this season, Nishikori will now attempt to end an eight-match losing streak in championship matches. The 28-year-old will appear in his third final of 2018, following runner-up finishes at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (l. to Nadal) and the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018 (l. to Medvedev).
Competing in his first ATP World Tour 500-level semi-final, Kukushkin was bidding to reach his fourth tour-level championship match (1-2). The 2010 St. Petersburg Open champion also reached the last four at the Nature Valley International in June.
Nishikori regularly applied pressure to his opponent with consistent depth in return games. After failing to covert two break-point opportunities in the sixth game, the Japanese No. 1 earned his first service break at 5-4, with an aggressive forehand winner deciding the set.
Keen to strengthen his advantage, Nishikori broke to love early in the second set with increased aggression behind his return. The Tokyo finalist maintained his lead with strong serving and soon arrived at match point, after 89 minutes, extending his set-winning streak against Kukushkin to 14 with a pinpoint backhand winner up the line.
Did You Know?
Nishikori has now won 40 or more tour-level matches in four of the past five ATP World Tour seasons.