September 2, 2014
Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori finally triumphed in a marathon match that equalled the latest finish in US Open history.
He defeated Canada’s Milos Raonic 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4 in a contest that ended at 2.26am local time. What is it about that magical hour in the city that never sleeps?
Twice before, classic encounters had finished at precisely that time. Philipp Kohlschreiber beat John Isner in 2012 and Mats Wilander saw off Mikael Pernfors back in 1993. Now Nishikori and Raonic join the illustrious “2.26 Club”.
Next Nishikori faces Stan Wawrinka, with barely 36 hours to recover. The hero of Japan said of his draining victory: ‘It was really tough to concentrate all the time against Milos, with his big serve and aces, but I kept fighting and my team kept believing in me. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever played Stan Wawrinka before so I’ll have to be ready for that one.’
In a war of attrition, it wasn’t just the players who were tested to their very limits of endurance. The crowd was visibly wilting as the battle on court continued late into the New York night. But around a thousand die-hards stayed to the glorious end, in recognition of a wonderful achievement by both players. Nishikori and Raonic received a standing ovation as they came out for the final game, served out by the resilient Nishikori.
It was gone 2am and almost four hours into the match when Nishikori found the fatal break in the fifth game of the fifth set. He consolidated with the most stunning series of winners to go 4-2 ahead. All this from a player who had needed an injury time-out after slipping behind at two sets to one, and had missed Toronto and Cincinnati with a niggling toe injury.
Earlier in New York, Andy Murray had produced his best tennis for a year to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and book his quarter-final place against Novak Djokovic. That much-anticipated clash promises to be one of the matches of the tournament.
Meanwhile among the women, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka impressed most as they advanced confidently to the business end of this fabulous Slam. Azarenka recovered superbly after going a set behind against the qualifier and 145th-ranked Serb, Aleksandra Krunic. Williams served strongly to wear down Kaia Kanepi in straight sets.
But right now it is Nishikori and his big-serving opponent Raonic who deserve the plaudits. Especially the amazing Marathon Man from Japan.
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