Japan's Kei Nishikori became the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam final :Federer, Djokovic both lose in US Open semifinals

Kei Nishikori, of Japan, reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic, of
Serbia, during the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament,
Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Roger Federer could not pull off another big escape at the U.S. Open,
losing 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals Saturday against Croatia's Marin

It was the second significant surprise of the day, coming after Novak
Djokovic was beaten 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 by Japan's Kei Nishikori, who
became the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam singles final.

Instead of the No. 1-seeded Djokovic against the No. 2-seeded Federer --
who have combined to win 24 major championships -- in Monday's final, it
will be No. 10 Nishikori against No. 14 Cilic, neither of whom has ever
appeared in a Grand Slam title match.

"It's just amazing, an amazing feeling beating the No. 1 player,"
Nishikori said during an on-court interview.

He had played five-set marathons in his last two matches totaling more
than 8½ hours, yet he looked far fresher than a player known as one of
the fittest on tour.

"He just played better in these conditions than I did," Djokovic said.

Under coach Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open champ, the 24-year-old
Nishikori has sharpened his mental game to pull out victories like these.

"We've been working super well," Nishikori said, referring to Chang and
co-coach Dante Bottini. "That's why I'm here."

The midday sun beat down on Arthur Ashe Stadium and a thermometer on
court showed the temperature nearing 100 degrees (37 Celsius), not
counting the humidity of close to 70 percent. Nishikori closed this one
out in 2 hours, 52 minutes.

Djokovic, who had reached the last four U.S. Open finals, outlasted
two-time major champ Andy Murray in four long, tough sets in the
quarters. But he never looked comfortable Saturday and spent much of the
match scrambling around the court as Nishikori dictated points.

"Just wasn't myself," Djokovic said.

In the third-set tiebreaker, Djokovic had four unforced errors and a
double-fault. Nishikori then broke to open the final set, and Djokovic
wasted three break points in the next game.

Nishikori converted 5 of 7 break points, while Djokovic was just 4 for 13.

"Other than that second set, my game today was not even close to what I
wanted it to be," Djokovic said. "A lot of unforced errors, a lot of
short balls."

Chang, the New Jersey-born son of Taiwanese immigrants, knows a thing or
two about groundbreaking victories. At age 17, he became the youngest
man to win a Grand Slam title when he upset Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg
(now Federer's coach) at Roland Garros.

A severely infected right big toe forced Nishikori to miss tuneup events
before the U.S. Open, and he feared that his lack of conditioning would
make for a short stay at Flushing Meadows. Instead, he keeps sticking
around -- on the court and in the tournament.

"I guess I love to play long matches," he said with a grin.


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