US Open | Nishikori avenges 2014 final defeat
Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who missed last year’s US Open after a season-ending wrist injury, joined compatriot Naomi Osaka in reaching the semis. For Japanese tennis it was a historic moment as two of their players are now gracing the last four of their respective draws at the same grand slam at the same time!
Nishikori’s arrival in the semis also avenged his 2014 final defeat by Marin Cilic on the occasion when he became the first player from an Asian country to reach a grand slam final. That year he beat Novak Djokovic to make the title round, a feat he will have to repeat this year if he is to make it for a second time.
He started very well but I didn’t make any first serves in the beginning. I didn’t feel I was playing great. I had to stay tough, especially in the second set. Kei Nishikori
Ironically both players are returning following surgery and both can now be said to have made full recoveries from those setbacks.
Nishikori required four-hours and 8-minutes to overcome the sixth seeded Croatian 2-6 6-4 7-6(5) 4-6 6-4 and immediately commented: “I don’t know why but it’s always a battle with Marin” after extending his record against his opponent to 9-6.
Nishikori, seeded at 21 for this event, looked in complete control in the fifth after a topsy turvy four sets when leading 3-1 and a break. He was on the verge of extending it to 5-2 only to double fault and then strike a loose backhand to allow Cilic back into the match, the Croat greeting his break with a cry of “Got it!”
It was short-lived as Nishikori immediately regained the advantage by breaking the big serving Croat to capture the match with a blistering service return.
“I try to fight every point,” said Nishikori. “Especially in the end, I really focus on every point,” but would have preferred not to have played for so long. “I wish I don’t go to five sets every time.”
Reflecting on the match, Nishikori added: “He started very well but I didn’t make any first serves in the beginning. I didn’t feel I was playing great. I had to stay tough, especially in the second set. Started playing better from 4-2 – I tried to swing little more and play aggressive and start working from 4-2 down.
“I felt like he was playing good tennis, and he gave me some free points , but he was playing great today so it wasn’t easy.
“But I really happy to win – go through matches like this – gives me big conddence playing semis next round.”
Again it won’t be easy as Djokovic holds a psychological advantage leading 12-2 in their head-to-heads.
The Serbian made it to the last four with a relatively comfortable 6-4 6-4 victory over John Millman who ousted Roger Federer in the last round.
The two-time US Open champion who ended a 54 week title drought when he won Wimbledon is looking good for his 14th major this week.
Millman kept Djokovic running – and was kept running himself – for 2 hours 49 minutes on another hot, humid night on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“You survive on the court then thrive with a win,” said Djokovic, who converted just four of his 20 break points and made 53 unforced errors before he was finally able to accomplish what Federer couldn’t in seeing off the Australian journeyman.
“Very tested,” Djokovic said. “It’s midnight now. Credit to John for putting up a great battle. After that kind of win to come out here and fight for three hours – he deserves a round of applause.”
It became evident that the two were set for a long night when it took 15-minutes to decide the sixth game in the opening set with Millman saving four break points.
The Aussie saved another four in the opening game of the second set and as the duel continued both players were clearly feeling the effects of their long, entertaining rallies.
But the conditions finally proved too much for Millman who asked permission from Djokovic to go off and change his clothes which were soaked and sticking to his body, even preventing him from pocketing the second ball.
“He was apologising he felt very sorry that he has to leave the court and change. I said, ‘Man, go ahead.’” The Serbian revealed later. “I needed that rest,” he added.
Djokovic made the final breakthrough in the penultimate game and served out to love to be the last player to make the last four.
“I gave it a crack,” said the 29-year-old Millman. “I definitely left it all out there today and pulled up a bit short. Novak’s a champion. He’s played a lot of Grand Slams and he knows how to win them.”
However he can be proud of having participated in an entertaining match which was marked by long rallies including 57 exchanges lasting more than nine shots.
“I was struggling, he was struggling,” Djokovic continued. “Changing a lot of t-shirts, shorts and just trying to hang in there and find a way to win the match.
“Not easy conditions to play in, but it’s the same for both players.”