First it was Novak Djokovic and then came the turn of Roger Federer. The two tennis kings were shockingly made to bite dust on a fateful Saturday at US Open Tennis Tournament’s 13th day in New-York. In carving out a tennis history of sorts, Japan’s Kei Nishikori became the first Asian male to enter the US open final. Quite like his scintillating performance over the last 2-3 days, Nishikori came up with an even better display to send the No.1 seed Novak Djokovic crashing out of the tournament. In another upset, Croatia’s Marin Cilic performed a clinical execution to hand out a stunning straight set defeat to modern era’s most celebrated tennis star. In Japan, it was 4AM on Sunday morning, when the match ended but the bleary-eyed Japanese tennis fans couldn’t care as they went into delirious celebrations in the wee hours of the morning even as the realization sank about the historical feat of country’s 24-year old tennis sensation. In the same way, at the end of the second semifinal, Cilic looked over in his box to see his coach Goran Ivanisevic heave a big sigh of relief. For the Croats back home, Cilic’s win signaled a major event for a nation of talented youngsters, who could draw inspiration from their countryman. Personally for Cilic, it was another step in establishing himself as a matured competitor after returning from a forgettable doping ban.
When Novak Djokovic came to Arthur Ashe on Saturday, he knew he had a tough competitor across the other side of the net. But Djokovic has the experience and talent to deal with such threats from time to time. His rise to the No.1 spot in world ranking has not come about in one day but built bit by bit over several years. Therefore, despite Nishikori’s fast-rising status in the game, Djokovic was ready. He brushed aside his 4-6 first set loss and bounced back powerfully in the second by winning it 6-1. For the Serbian, it was now merely a question of winning two more sets, before taking the final with whoever came on the other side on Monday. But the determined Japanese youngster sensed his chances after all the hard work in the week gone by. He prepared for the crucial third set with a different mindset because this held the keys of the match. Nishikori took the first step and broke Djokovic at 3-4 in game that the Serb began with a double fault but soon made it 30-30. During the point-play, the Japanese came up with a spectacular crosscourt backhand passing shot, played on the run and held a break point at 30-40. Nishikori went on to break Djokovic, only to hand over the break right back. Djokovic pushed him to earn a break point at 30-40 in the ninth game and finished with a sizzling down-the-line forehand winner. The set was destined to go to the tie-break and the entire game hinged on its result.
Djokovic began passively and looked out-of-sorts, committing a needless backhand return error on the first point and missed a straightforward backhand to lose the second point. Djokovic’s game is widely regarded for his solid backhand but on the fateful Saturday, he committed another backhand error on the third tie-break point to trail 0-3. The blundering play from Djokovic did not stop there. For the fourth point in the tie-break, after a short four-shot rally, Djokovic tried a sliced top-spinning forehand that found the bottom of the net. From the brink, just as Djokovic got back to 2-4, he served a double-fault to land himself in further mess. Somehow he had the serve, when down set-point at 4-6 but the Serbian awkwardly sent a forehand wide and allowed Nishikori to lead him 2-1 on the sets. Riding on the tie-break win, the Japanese dictated terms to Djokovic in the fourth set and completed the upset with a 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory to the utter disbelief of the spectators.
In the next semifinal, Roger Federer was tipped as the favorite to the 14th-seeded Marin Cilic. He held an unbeaten record against the Croat but everything changed dramatically in a swift and convincing way as Cilic overpowered the champion player 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The imposing Cilic, who stands at 6ft-6in, produced a performance of lifetime to win in 1-hour-45-minutes, allowing no room to Federer all through the match.
The aggressive Croat was down 3 break points at 0-40 in the third game of the first set but fought back valiantly to hold his serve. He had another break point against him but it was on his own service game. Cilic survived these brief moments and wrapped up the first set in 28 minutes. In the second set, a double fault from Federer and a missed forehand presented three break points to Cilic, the third of which he converted with a great return that Federer was unable to reach. From here, the second set belonged to the Croat. Federer looked like bouncing back in the third set just as he had done against Monfils the other night. He broke Cilic early and led 2-0. But Cilic came back to not only wipe out the deficit but found a break of his own to lead 4-3. All he needed to do was hold his serve twice, even if Federer held his. Marin Cilic signed off the momentous victory by serving three aces and carving out a sweetly timed backhand winner.
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