September 6, 2018
Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka created history for their country on a remarkable day at Flushing Meadows.
For the very first time, Japan has two semi-finalists at a Grand Slam event.
Nishikori defeated Marin Cilic in five sets and faces Novak Djokovic for a place in the showpiece.
Osaka had it easier against the faltering Lesia Tsurenko and booked a semi-final place against Madison Keys inside 58 minutes.
Nishikori beamed: ‘I’m very pleased with the way I played, especially towards the end.’
Initially it looked as though he was going to be blasted off court, as Cilic led by a set and 4-2.
But Kei stayed cool and after that his returning improved as Cilic seemed to grow nervous.
Successive double faults by the big Croat in the third-set tie-break proved crucial.
Until then, Cilic must still have felt confident of repeating his 2014 final victory over Nishikori.
But despite summoning enough passion to draw level, Marin couldn’t cope with Nishikori’s aggressive returns of his 132mph serve, particularly in the decisive final game.
So Japan was celebrating their hero’s 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 victory.
Combined with Osaka’s 6-1, 6-1 dismissal of the struggling Tsurenko, the Land of the Rising Sun was in dreamland.
But both Japanese players will be severely tested at the semi-final stage.
Djokovic will hope to cope with the humid conditions better than he did against John Millman.
Novak was doubled up as early as the first set, and Millman had a break point to put proceedings back on serve at 4-5.
Djokovic dug deep, though he needed to take tablets later in the match, probably to replace the salt he was losing in his sweat.
‘Personally I have never sweat so much as here, you need ten shirts per match, soaking after two games,. There is no air,’ Novak commented, echoing Roger Federer’s remarks earlier in the tournament.
Millman needed to go off to change his entire kit at one stage. But he didn’t use the humidity, or the fact that he too constantly felt drenched, as an excuse for Novak’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
‘I’d play in a swimming pool if it meant playing in another Grand Slam quarter-final,’ he joked.
Federer’s conqueror had made it harder for Djokovic than the scoreline suggested and even broke back in the final set.
So Djokovic will be no less drained than Nishikori for their showdown.
He remains a formidable opponent for Nishikori, nevertheless.
And Madison Keys looks in supreme form after beating the dangerous Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-3 with relative ease.
Both players from the Far East will have to bring their very best games to the party to reach the finals. But wouldn’t that be something?
It all points to a scintillating climax to the 2018 US Open. Japan will be watching more avidly than anyone.