September 7, 2014
Kei Nishikori produced the shock of the year by beating the world number one, Novak Djokovic to make astonishing history at Flushing Meadows. He prevailed 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 to capture the imagination of all Asia and beyond. The first Asian male to make a Grand Slam final, Nishikori simply wasn’t prepared to accept the predictable script. Instead he ripped it up and wrote his own.
With Hollywood star Bruce Willis looking on, this was die-hard combat, the stuff of movies, as the giant of the sport was taken down by the little guy.
‘I don’t know what’s going on! I was a little tight in my first semi-final in a Grand Slam. It is an amazing feeling beating the number one player, I’m so happy,’ said Nishikori. ‘I hope it’s big news in Japan, I feel it even coming from the TV.’
He is big in Japan, alright. Now tennis mania will take hold even more fervently, as all of Japan waits to see whether they can crown their first great champion. Three times it looked as though Nishikori would throw the pivotal third set away. He served for that set at 5-3 and came within two points of taking it in that game. He came just as close ar 5-4 ahead on the Djokovic serve. But Novak toughed out that game too and forced his opponent all the way into a tie-break. Nishikori led 4-0 and 5-2 in the breaker before squandering his advantage and allowing the Serb to put it back on serve. But then it was Djokovic who crumbled and Nishikori who finally ran out a 7-4 winner.
The underdog had shown some outstanding stroke-play to take the first set 6-4, refusing to be overawed by the occasion. But he crumbled in the second, appeared to be struggling with the heat and humidity, and it looked as though the tide had turned. But back came Nishikori, taking the ball late with little back-lift to generate awesome power. Djokovic looked out of sorts as he allowed himself to be broken at the start of the fourth. Then he squandered three break points to fall 0-2 behind.
Games went with serve, though you sensed that Nishikori had capitulated rather too easily as Djokovic held to love and came back to 2-3. One break from the favourite would always be sure to ask serious questions of Nishikori, after his previous five-setters in the tournament. Yet the younger man held again to edge closer to glory. Both players seemed to be running on empty, almost out on their feet on a sweltering New York afternoon. Incredibly, Nishikori broke again for the shocking finale. He took the second of his match points on a fading Novak’s serve, and achieved the seemingly impossible.
Japan can hail a truly global sports star now. Nishikori’s following will grow, wherever he goes. This may just be the beginning.
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