Sunday, September 07, 2014

Nishikori stuns Djokovic

NEW YORK >> Japan's Kei Nishikori became the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam final, stunning top-ranked Novak Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 in stifling heat Saturday at the U.S. Open.

"It's just amazing, an amazing feeling beating the No. 1 player," Nishikori said during an on-court interview.

He had played five-set marathons in his last two matches totaling more than 8 1/2 hours, yet he looked far fresher than a player known as one of the fittest on tour.

"He just played better in these conditions than I did," Djokovic said.

Under coach Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open champ, the 24-year-old Nishikori has sharpened his mental game to pull out victories like these.

"We've been working super well," Nishikori said, referring to Chang and co-coach Dante Bottini. "That's why I'm here."

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NEW YORK >> Instead of Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer for the U.S. Open title, first-time Grand Slam finalists Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic will vie for the championship after a pair of semifinal surprises Saturday.

First, Japan's Nishikori became the first man from Asia to reach a major singles championship match by staying fresher than Djokovic in stifling heat and winning 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Then, Croatia's Cilic used every bit of his 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) frame to deliver stinging serves and flat groundstrokes during a quick-as-can-be 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Federer.

"It's fairly simple, I think: Marin played great and I maybe didn't catch my best day," Federer said after his 1-hour, 45-minute loss. "That's pretty much it in a nutshell."

So much for No. 1-seeded Djokovic facing the No. 2-seeded Federer in a matchup between men who have combined to win 24 Grand Slam trophies. In what some will see as signaling a generational shift in tennis, Monday's final will be No. 10 Nishikori against No. 14 Cilic.

"That's going to be a sensational day for both of us," said Cilic, who at 25 is a year older than Nishikori.

For the first time in nearly a decade -- since Marat Safin beat Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open in January 2005 -- a major final will be contested without at least one of Federer, Djokovic or Rafael Nadal, who didn't attempt to defend his 2013 U.S. Open title because of a right wrist injury.

That trio won 34 of the past 38 Grand Slam trophies, including two months ago at Wimbledon, when Djokovic edged Federer in a five-set final.

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