Kei Nishikori was anything but favored after coming off a long match against Milos Raonic that ended in the early hours of the previous day, but on Wednesday the Japanese No. 1 proved himself a marathon man at the US Open, defeating Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 6-7(5), 6-4 in four hours and 15 minutes.
He became the first Japanese player to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam event in the Open Era.
“I started a little bit tight, but my play was okay,” said the No. 10 seed. “As the match went on, I was feeling more and more confident, especially in the third set. I don’t know how I finished the game, but I’m very happy…Hopefully I can play 100 per cent tennis in the next round.”
Nishikori looked spent in the fifth set, but it was Wawrinka who cracked, double faulting in the sixth game to set up two break points, with Nishikori converting on the second.
“It was a good start,” Wawrinka said. “I was playing well, for sure, but he wasn’t really into the match yet at the beginning. I think what’s happen he start to play better. He start to be more aggressive. He start to try to took out the time I needed to play against him. Yeah, I wasn’t playing my best game, for sure. I had some up and down. I was quite not happy with myself, but I think also because he was playing good.”
After his 2:26am finish Monday, the 24-year-old Nishikori becomes the first player at the US Open to win his next match following a 2am or later finish.
“I slept at 6:00 a.m.,” he said of his Monday late finish. “That was a little bit tough because I never had that experience. But always, you know, good to win after 2:30 a.m. I had a little bit jet lag today.”
In the semifinals he will face Novak Djokovic. The World No. 1 outlasted rival and fellow US Open champion Andy Murray 7-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4 in a match that ended at 1:17am. The 3-hour, 30-minute win sends Djokovic to his eighth US Open semifinal and six sets from a second title.
Djokovic now leads Murray 13-8 in their head-to-head wining five of the last six meetings. Djokovic actually squandered break leads in the first two sets but managed to split two breakers before taking charge in the third.
Djokovic has split two meetings with Nishikori. Both guys will get two days off before their Saturday semi.
In women’s quarterfinal play, world No. 1 Serena Williams and Ekaterina Makarova won on Wednesday to set up an unlikely semifinal.
The No. 17-seeded Makarova defeated No. 16 seed Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-2 in a display of baseline bashing.
“Well, it’s not hit me yet,” Makarova said of her first Slam semifinal. “Today was a great, tough match. We played so many times, she beat me and I beat her, so it was a tough one.”
Azarenka admitted afterward that she ate some bad sushi Monday which gave her food poisoning.
In the evening, Williams lost the first three games against Flavia Pennetta before gathering together her composure, winning six straight games to clinch the first set and eventually running it out 6-3, 6-2.
“I felt she was playing well,” Williams said. “I didn’t feel like I was doing too much wrong. I just tried to do a little better. I really rely on my serve a lot, but if my serve is off, I can rely on my groundstrokes. But I had a lot of fun today, and I really enjoyed it. I’m just so excited. It feels so special to be back in the semifinal in my home court. It’s just a unbelievable moment.”
Williams says she will be wary of her low-seeded opponent in the semis.
“I’ve had a tough year in the majors so you can never underestimate anyone,” she said. “We’re all fighting really hard and we all deserve to be here.”
Thursday in Flushing Meadows will see men’s quarterfinal action (6) Tomas Berdych vs. (14) Marin Cilic, and (2) Roger Federer vs. (20) Gael Monfils.
Berdych has won five of eight against Cilic but the Croat beat Berdych at Wimbledon. Federer leads Monfils 7-2 (4-0 in Slams) and he too beat him opponent this summer at Cincinnati in three sets.
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