WHAT HAPPENED: In a late-night-turned-early-morning battle of rising stars, each hoping to advance to a US Open quarterfinal for the first time in his career, No. 10 Kei Nishikori of Japan outlasted the Canadian Milos Raonic, upsetting the No. 5 seed, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4.
The match, which lasted four hours and 19 minutes and finished at 2:26 a.m., tied the record for latest finish at the US Open. Two matches previously ended at the same time: John Isner versus Philipp Kohlschreiber in 2012 third round and Mats Wilander versus Maikel Pernfors in a 1993 second-round marathon.
With the match going into the wee hours on Labor Day, the stands remained full of revelers extending summer as long as they could. The sharp-returning Japanese withstood a barrage of 86 winners, including 35 aces, from the single-sleeved, bomb-serving Raonic, nicknamed “The Missile.” Several Raonic serves registered at a brisk 144 mph.
"It was really tough to concentrate all the time," said Nishikori. "I just tried to play one point at a time and keep fighting."
Nishikori, who missed five weeks of the summer hard-court season with an injury to a toe on his right foot, was attended to for the same foot issue early in the fourth set, but he still broke serve at 5-5. It was the first time either player had achieved a break point in 14 games. Nishikori held to extend the match to a fifth set.
In the final set, at just under four hours of play, Nishikori, a compact and fleet shotmaker, broke the imposing Raonic serve for the fifth and final time and earned a 3-2 lead.
It was all the opening that Nishikori needed. Earlier, Nishikori had multiple opportunities to consolidate leads in each set, but bizarrely, three times after he broke Raonic’s serve, he turned right around and handed the break back at love, each time with a spate of bad errors.
WHAT IT MEANS: Nishikori advances to a US Open quarterfinal for the first time, and he now holds the proud distinction of being the first Japanese man to reach this far in New York. On Wednesday, he will meet No. 3 Stanislas Wawrinka, a semifinalist here last year (and Australian Open champion this year). Nishikori equals his previous best Grand Slam result, a quarterfinal appearance at the 2012 Australian Open.
Raonic had been a perfect 6-0 in tiebreaks in the Open coming into tonight’s match, but Nishikori won the first one in the second set to snap the Canadian’s streak.
THE QUESTION: Will Nishikori have anything left in the tank against Wawrinka?