By Chris Oddo | Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese man in 96 years to reach the semifinals of the US Open with a five-set win over Stan Wawrinka.
Photo Source: Getty
Kei Nishikori has long been considered talented enough to win titles at majors, but after his rousing 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 6-7(5), 6-4 victory over Stan Wawrinka in the US Open quarterfinals on Wednesday in New York, Nishikori proved that he is also in possession of what many considered to be key missing ingredients from his game—fortitude and fitness.
For the first time in his career, the 24-year-old Shimane, Japan native has defeated top ten players in consecutive matches at a major, and Nishikori—once labeled injury prone, and by a few harsh critics, a little too soft—improved his record in five-set matches to 10-2 lifetime (main draw) and 4-0 in 2014.
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“It's not like I love to play five sets,” Nishikori explained, after his breakthrough victory over third-seeded Wawrinka, “but I have a lot of confidence to play in the fifth. I get more concentration and my tennis is getting better playing in the fourth or fifth sets. Yeah, these two matches, it's going to help for sure.”
He did it with a brand of tennis that was electric. Taking the ball early, the explosive Nishikori regularly took full, unrestrained swings at the ball, sending it careening at treacherous angles as if he were a engaged in a video game or a ping-pong match. To take all those full swings meant that Nishikori had to be in position with his legs to do so. Somehow he made it happen.
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Wawrinka, to be fair, was nearly equal to Nishikori in every phase of the game on this afternoon, which made the matchup all the more compelling, and the exchanges between the two all the more hair-raising. For fans of pure, kinetic ball-striking and energized rallies this was a matchup to die for.
For Nishikori, it will be one to relish.
After finishing off Milos Raonic at 2:26 on Tuesday morning for a fourth-round victory, it was expected that the Japanese No. 1 might have a tough time dealing with the pulsating ground strokes and physicality of Stan Wawrinka. That proved to be true in the first set, but by the beginning of the second Nishikori was standing toe-to-toe with the Swiss as each ramped up their games in what would become the most compelling match of the tournament in the men’s side.
“I had a little bit jet lag today,” joked Nishikori to reporters after the match. Then he recanted. “No, it's good. It's good. My body is good.”
Thanks to a double-fault by Wawrinka, Nishikori would steal the second set, and he would take the third after saving a set point in the tiebreaker thanks to some courageous free-hitting of the ball at times where it would have been more than understandable to be timid.
Remarkably, Nishikori was never timid in this match, nor did he ever waver in his commitment, even when Wawrinka took the fourth-set tiebreaker after nearly blowing a 4-0 lead to force a decider.
If body language could win matches, Wawrinka surely would have been given the nod in the decider, but Nishikori, seemingly running on fumes as the match passed the four-hour mark, never wilted. He saved three break points in his second and third service games of the match with faith-based ball-striking that was just good enough to keep Wawrinka from getting his way, and when he got his chance in the tenth game, he made his second match point count, sealing the victory in four hours and 15 minutes.
With the victory, Nishikori becomes the first Japanese player to reach the US Open semifinals since 1918, and the first Japanese player to reach the semifinals at any Grand Slam since 1933.
He will face either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray in the semifinals.
Here’s a sampling of tweets from this match, which generated quite a bit of buzz on Twitter for its high level of play: