Kei Nishikori got some measure of revenge Wednesday at the US Open against Marin Cilic. The Croat blew him out in the 2014 final, but today the Japanese No. 1 turned the tables overcoming a set and a break deficit to win 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4 in 4 hours, 8 minutes.
Cilic came out hot early and was overpowering the smaller Nishikori. But Kei woke up and found his form and reeled off six straight games to take the second and go up in the third with a break.
After a 10-minute heat break, Cilic regained control in the fourth but went down 4-1 in the fifth. He got the break but trading breaks when you are one down didn’t add up and Nishikori won his third straight US Open quarterfinal, and 9th meeting with Cilic in 15 tries.
“He started very well,” said Nishikori. “I didn’t feel like I was playing great. I had to stay tough, especially in the second set.
I started playing better from 4-2. I tried to swing a little more, play aggressive and start working better from 4-2 down,” he added. “I am really happy to win and to go through matches like this. It wasn’t easy and I didn’t feel like I was playing my best tennis today, but I fought through somehow and it gives me big confidence.”
Cilic was trying to get back to the US Open semifinals also for a third time, but 70 unforced errors did him in.
“I came out in the match great, 6-2, 4-2 serving, and everything was going great,” said Cilic. “Just a little bit of a shift of the momentum there. Kei started to hit a little bit better. He broke me. He won six games in a row there, converted three of three break points and just put me back a bit on my back foot.
“From that point on, I felt the match was quite even,” he went on. “Felt that I created enough chances to even maybe win earlier, win that second set and I had some chances, as well, in the third. [It is] unfortunate to lose that. With a great, quality player like Kei, he also had his chances, and he made it.”
On Friday, Nishikori will meet nemesis Novak Djokovic. The Serb won a tough tussle with Australian Federer-killer John Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in 2 hours, 50 minutes.
“Very tested. Almost three hours, it’s midnight now. Credit to John for putting up a great battle. He’s a truly great fighter. He’s had an amazing tournament,” Djokovic said on court.
Millman’s steady baseline game forced Djokovic into exhaustingly long rallies. Djokovic’s ability to better hit through the slow court proved the difference. And the heavy conditions prompted an abrupt clothing change as Millman apologized to Djokovic for having to leave the court at 2-all in the second just before the Aussie was due to serve.
Djokovic, who was a little weary at the time, was more than happy to take a break which turned out to be about six minutes.
“I needed that rest. It was great,” he said.
Then late in the third, Djokovic pushed the serve clock to zero, and the second time John McEnroe quipped he did it on purpose which drew a fault penalty and eventually he lost his break lead.
Djokovic has now made the US Open semifinals 11 straight times.
Djokovic has won 14 of 16 against Nishikori having won 13 straight. But Djokovic last loss to Nishikori came at the 2014 US Open semifinals.
“I don’t have a great record against Novak, but it’s always been a tough match in the past couple of years,” Nishikori said. “Always excited to play Novak, because it’s a great challenge for me. It is always exciting to play him.”
“If he wins, it’s going to be tough, but John is playing great. Either one is going to be tough. I will try to be aggressive and positive out there and hope I can play good tennis in the next round.”
The Nadal-Delpo is a rematch of the 2017 and 2009 semifinals.
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