NEW YORK – With Rafael Nadal missing the final Grand Slam of the season, the door was wide open for someone ouside of the Big 4 to make it to the semi-finals. Many expected it to be Stan Wawrinka, the surprise winner of this year's Australian Open.
Kei Nishikori had another idea. To get to the quarterfinal, he had knocked out 5th-seed Milos Raonic in a five-setter that lasted until 2:26 a.m. Tuesday morning. It's a wonder he was still standing after the four-hour, 19-minute marathon. But less than 36 hours later, Nishikori took the court to face Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinal.
Wawrinka owned both wins in their two previous meetings. He took the first set 6-3, and looked to be in control of the match. But Nishikori took the second set 7-5, then forced, and won, a third-set tiebreak to go up 3-6, 7-5, 7-6. At that point, they'd been on the court for more than two and a half hours.
Wawrinka fought back, taking a fourth-set tiebreak after another hour; but in the fifth set, 24-year-old Nishikori punched his ticket to his first Grand Slam semifinal. He is the first Japanese player to reach this stage in any Grand Slam in the Open Era, which started in 1968.
Their meeting looked as though it, too, would last into the wee hours of the night. The first set lasted one hour, 13 minutes, with Djokovic besting Murray in a tiebreak. A full hour later, Murray won the second-set tiebreak.
From there, though, the match completely shifted. Murray looked stiff, applying a heat pack to his lower back during a changeover. His service game faltered, and he failed to convert a break as Djokovic took the third and fourth sets in a little over an hour. The final score was 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, with the match wrapping up at 1:17a.m.
With the win, Djokovic advanced to his eighth straight U.S. Open semifinal.
"Winning against Andy in a Grand Slam is definitely a confidence boost, and hopefully I can use it for the next match,” said the 2011 U.S. Open champion.