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Nishikori Reaches First Major SF At US Open

New York, U.S.A.

Nishikori© Getty ImagesKei Nishikori is into his first Grand Slam semi-final.

Kei Nishikori clinched an epic five-set win over Stan Wawrinka on Wednesday at the US Open to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final. The 24 year old is the first Japanese man since 1933 to reach a major semi-final after edging Australian Open champion Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(7), 6-7(5), 6-4 in four hours and 15 minutes.

In his on-court interview with Brad Gilbert, Nishikori said, “I started a little bit tight, but my play was okay. 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. I feel amazing, playing well. It's my favourite Grand Slam. Hopefully I can play 100 per cent tennis in the next round.”

In Saturday’s semi-finals, Nishikori will face either World No. 1 Novak Djokovic or 2012 champion Andy Murray. The Shimane native will be the first Japanese player to contest the US Open semi-finals since 1918.

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Having tied for the latest ever finish at the US Open with his 2:26am victory over Milos Raonic in the fourth round, Nishikori was not at his best in the first set against Wawrinka. The Swiss capitalised on an 83 mph second serve to break Nishikori in the second game with a rifling forehand return winner and went on to secure the opener.

Nishikori settled into his game in the second set and, after being denied on a 0/40 chance on Wawrinka’s serve in the eighth game, levelled the match as he broke the Swiss in the 12th game. The right-hander stepped up his momentum with a break midway through the third set. However, when serving for the set at 5-3, 15/30, Nishikori attempted a ‘tweener off a Wawrinka lob. As his shot landed in the net, coach Michael Chang watched on despairingly as Wawrinka subsequently broke back.

Nishikori regrouped in time to save a break point in the 11th game and force a tie-break. The Japanese was denied his first set point chance at 6-5 before saving a set point of his own with a scintillating backhand winner. A wayward forehand from Wawrinka gave Nishikori a second chance at 8-7, and he converted as Wawrinka hit a backhand return long off a second serve.

After three games of the fourth set, Nishikori received treatment on the right toe injury that had sidelined him in Toronto and Cincinnati. Neither player was able to make a breakthrough and in the subsequent tie-break, Wawrinka quickly assumed control with a 4-0 lead. Nishikori fought back, though, and found himself two points from victory at 5-5. The Florida resident skewed a backhand wide, though, and Wawrinka made no mistake on set point with an unreturned serve.

Holding on in the fifth set, Nishikori rallied from 15/40 down in the third game and saved another break point to take a 3-2 lead. The pressure of serving second in the decider eventually told on Wawrinka in the 10th game. A double fault from the Swiss, his eighth of the match, gave Nishikori two match points at 15/40. The right-hander converted his second as Wawrinka’s forehand found the net.

Remarking on Nishikori's turnaround from his lengthy fourth-round match, Wawrinka said, "From outside he looks really dead, but we know on the court he can play, and he play long like what he did today. If even at the beginning he looks like he's going to die on the court, but he's there. Physically he's there.

"We were both quite tired in the fifth set. I tried not to show. I still think that I was the fresher on the court, but he handled it well. He was really going for his shot in the fifth set. I had some chances to break him. Maybe I should have gone for it a little bit more, maybe I should have tried a few different things, but it didn't happen that way. That's life."

It is the first time in his career that Nishikori has recorded back-to-back Top 10 wins at a Grand Slam championship.

Nishikori’s major breakthrough comes hot on the heels of his fellow young guns’ standout performances at Wimbledon, where Grigor Dimitrov and Raonic both reached their first Grand Slam semi-finals. All three have strong chances of qualifying for the year-end Barclays ATP World Tour Finals for the first time. 

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© David G. McIntyre

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