NEW YORK, September 6, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Following the lead of rising Japanese star Naomi Osaka, who easily advanced to the U.S. Open semifinals with an easy 6-1, 6-1 win over Lesia Tsurenko earlier in the day, Kei Nishikori overcame a shaky beginning and came on strong to beat 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, in a quarterfinal-round match on Wednesday afternoon. What began under a blanket of hot sunshine over Arthur Ashe Stadium turned to warm shade after four hours and nine minutes of play filled with many momentum shifts.
Nishikori’s ninth career victory over Cilic lifted him to his third Grand Slam semifinal, all of them at the U.S. Open. It was his sixth career win against a Top 10 player at the Open and he improved his career record to 18-6 in five-setters.
Nishikori’s win coupled with Osaka’s gave Japan a men’s and women’s semifinalist at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time in the Open Era.
The 21st-seeded Nishikori withstood 19 service aces and 57 winners from Cilic, but the third-seeded Croatian also committed 70 unforced errors. Meanwhile, Nishikori overcame 45 unforced errors of his own with 29 winners and he broke Cilic five times in nine tries while saving seven of 13 break points.
Asked during an on-court interview to describe his latest five-set challenge, Nishikori said, “It was very tough, especially at the end when he came back. I don’t know why, but we always play long matches. It’s always a battle with Marin. It was great tennis today.”
Nishikori, 28, improved to 23-8 lifetime at Flushing Meadows and his victory over Cilic, 29, was his second in four meetings at the U.S. Open.
Looking back, Cilic thought the match was “quite even” and could have gone either way. “With a great, quality player like Kei, he also had his chances, and he made it … (the match) came down to a couple of points,” he said.
Nishikori said, “I don’t wish to play five sets every time, but I try to fight for every point – even when I’m tired. At the end (today), I was refocused and fought for every point.”
Djokovic advances to face Nishikori
Novak Djokovic is no stranger to playing Grand Slam quarterfinals; he’s played in 42 of them during his storied career. Not so much for John Millman, who two nights earlier stunned five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer to reach the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of his career.
When Djokovic and Millman took center stage at Arthur Ashe Stadium on a very humid Wednesday night, it was the Serbian’s 11th time to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals – and he’s done it in each of his 11 appearances (2007-16; 2018) at Flushing Meadows. Djokovic has never lost when he’s reached the quarterfinal round at the U.S. Open, and he wasn’t about to see his undefeated streak end – especially to someone ranked as low as Millman (55th).
Djokovic, the two-time U.S. Open champion, defeated the Australian Millman, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours and 48 minutes of spirited play. Millman made Djokovic work for his 20th victory in his last 21 matches. Although it wasn’t a statistically impressive performance for Djokovic – he committed 53 unforced errors and converted just four of 20 break-point opportunities – the Wimbledon champion survived and thrived in the moment. He outpointed Millman 109-91.
“I was struggling, he was struggling. We were both sweating – changing a lot of t-shirts. I was just trying to hang in there, trying to find a way to win a match,” said Djokovic during an on-court, post-match interview. “You survive on the court and thrive with a win. It was not easy conditions to play in, but it was the same for both players. …. Credit to John for putting up a great battle. He’s truly a great fighter. …. We have respect for each other.”
Next, Djokovic will face No. 21 seed Kei Nishikori in Friday’s semifinals, where he enjoys a 14-2 career head-to-head record. It will be Djokovic’s 33rd major semifinal match.
Keys reaches second straight U.S. Open semifinal
No. 14 seed Madison Keys advanced to her second consecutive U.S. Open semifinal – and third semifinal in her last five majors – with a 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 30 seed Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain. The 23-year-old American will face No. 20 seed Naomi Osaka of Japan Thursday night for a spot in Saturday’s final. (No. 17 seed Serena Williams faces No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova in the other semifinal.)
A big hitter, Keys won 80 percent of her first-serve points (35 of 44), which included six aces, and she also hit 22 winners to offset her 32 unforced errors. Keys broke Suárez Navarro twice – which she called crucial – and never dropped serve during the one hour and 22 minute match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I felt good today, being out in front of an energetic crowd tonight,” said Keys during an on-court interview. “It was fun and always having them behind me is great. I’m really happy to be in the semifinals.”
Schiavone announces retirement
Francesca Schiavone, 38, announced her retirement Wednesday at the U.S. Open after a career that included winning the 2010 French Open title and three Fed Cup championships with Italy.
“I arrived (at) this decision to say goodbye to the tennis with my heart because my head, when I arrived here, say, ‘Please go to the court, fight, because I can beat many other players.’ But my heart say that I am in peace like this, that I am very happy about my career, my life, and everything. So I wake up in the morning, and I feel good,” said Schiavone. “I asked the U.S. Open if they could give me this opportunity to say thanks and say goodbye.”
Schiavone said she accomplished her goals as a player – winning a title at Roland Garros and reaching the Top 10 in the world. She accomplished both goals in 2010 as her French Open crown lifted her to a No. 7 ranking. In 2011, her world ranking peaked at No. 4, which is the highest-ever ranking for an Italian woman.
What they’re saying
• Rafael Nadal after his four hour and 49 minute, five-set triumph over Dominic Thiem that began Tuesday night and ended at 2:04 a.m. Wednesday morning: “In some way when you give everything that you have, win or lose, is just that someone have to lose, someone have to win, that’s part of the game. But the personal satisfaction when you give everything and you play with the right attitude is the same.”
• More Rafa: “Of course, tennis is not forever. Of course, you know that your chances to play these kind of matches every time are less. But in some way, being honest, I had a very tough injury in 2005. I had the chance to really appreciate all the things that happened to me during my career because I had in different moments tough injuries. So when you are back, you always appreciate the things that happen. They have more value, more personal value, when you come back from tough moments, no?”
• Dominic Thiem, looking back on his quarterfinal loss to Rafael Nadal: “I would say the first really epic match I played. I played some good ones before, but not that long, not that long against the great guys on the Grand Slam stage. I’m happy that I did this for the first time, even if it went the wrong way. Of course, now I’m devastated a little bit. But in a few days, I will look back and will remember how great it was to playt in front of a packed Arthur Ashe – this great match.”
• More Thiem: “It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever. … I’m going to remember this match for sure. I mean, it’s cruel sometimes tennis, you know, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there had to be one.”
• Naomi Osaka, who grew up on Long Island, New York, until age 9, on returning to New York: “Well, in the mornings I don’t play matches, I walk around and hear the lovely honking. I just like walking in the city. It’s just there’s a lot of energy – and then you come back to the hotel angry because everyone just makes you angry … like, ‘Oh, why are these people walking so slow?’”
• More Osaka: “New York is very nostalgic. I used to play here when I was a little kid, so these courts aren’t new to me. … It definitely means a lot, and I always thought if I were to win a Grand Slam, the first one I’d want to win is the U.S. Open because I’ve grown up here, and then my grandparents can come and watch. It would be really cool.”
What they’re tweeting
Chris Fowler, ESPN tennis commentator, who called the Rafael Nadal-Dominic Thiem match: “It’s 3:30 a.m. I’m sitting on the terrace looking at NYC lights, still too wired to sleep, privately toasting the latest (literally) unforgettable U.S. Open match I’ve been privileged to call. Always inspiring and moving to see a battle like that. Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, thank you both.”