Federer, Djokovic both lose in US Open semifinalsKei Nishikori, of Japan, reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, during the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
NEW YORK – As the ball sailed over the baseline, Kei Nishikori dropped his racket to the side, raised his arms and pumped both of his fists in the air. Though typically reserved, he seemed to be letting the pressure of the past two weeks, and the last 20 or so years, finally lift from his shoulders.
At 24, Nishikori became the first Japanese man to advance to a Grand Slam final in the Open Era. To get there, he pulled off a thrilling 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 upset over top-seeded Novak Djokovic.
"Very happy to make another history," Nishikori said.
Djokovic brought all his tricks Saturday, making Nishikori cover every inch of the court in stifling heat. Nishikori, though, showed no sign he was intimidated by Djokovic's credentials, his serve or his drop shot. They traded the first two sets, with Nishikori taking the first 6-4, then Djokovic coming alive to take the second 6-1. It looked like he'd take over from there, but Nishikori stuck with him, forcing a third-set tiebreak.
Nishikori took the first four points, and Djokovic fought back to 3-4, then 4-5, but the attempt fell short. Nishikori took the tiebreak, for the 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 advantage heading into the fourth set. There, it was Nishikori looking more experienced, converting an all-important break point to go up 5-3.
When Djokovic double-faulted to give Nishikori a match point, the writing was on the wall. What started as a thriller ended with a thud. Nishikori converted the break point. Game, set, match. Nishikori had more unforced errors; Djokovic hit more winners, but in the end, the stats didn't matter. Nishikori is the one moving on.
"I tried to give my best and I did. Now my best today was not where I wanted it to be," Djokovic said after the match. "Other than that second set my game today was not even close to what I wanted it to be."
Djokovic came in the favorite. He won here in 2011, had played in the past five finals and has six other Grand Slam titles on his résumé. Coming into this fortnight, much was made of off-court distractions this summer, including his recent wedding and the upcoming birth of his first child. But he'd quieted the murmurs by playing dominant tennis so far, dropping only one set en route to his eighth straight U.S. Open semifinal appearance.
Nishikori was appearing in his first Grand Slam semifinal. He came to New York with two wins over top 10 players this year, having beaten No. 4 David Ferrer and No. 5 Roger Federer in March. He'd cracked the ATP top 10 for the first time in his career, spending four weeks at No. 9 before dropping back to No. 11, and had reached the fourth round in this year's Australian Open. It's been an impressive year, but he faced a tough road to the final. The first true challenge came in the fourth round, where he pulled off a five-set win over No. 5 seed Milos Raonic. Less than 36 hours later, in another stunner, he beat No. 3 Stan Wawrinka.
This was the third time Djokovic and Nishikori met, having split the first two meetings. Nishikori was the first No. 10 seed to play in the semifinal since Pete Sampras did so in 2001. Only three others have ever done it, and the only one to eventually win was John Newcombe in 1973.
Nishikori will face Marin Cilic in Monday's final. Cilic upset Federer in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, setting up the first time since the 2005 Australian Open that a Grand Slam final does not include Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray.
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