The first result was improbable, No. 10 seed Kei Nishikori shaking off back-to-back marathon five-setters to oust five-time finalist Novak Djokovic in four sets, beating the top seed behind fleet feet, unrelenting defense and thumping ground strokes off both wings – usually all domains of the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
The next match quite simply turned the men’s tennis world upside down. No. 14 seed Marin Cilic dispatched five-time champion Roger Federer in straight sets, having never been threatened during an encounter that clocked in at a brisk 1 hour, 45 minutes.
And just like that, the No. 1 and No. 2 men’s seeds had lost in the US Open semifinals for the first time in the Open era. And suddenly, there was not a single member of the Big Four – Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray – in Grand Slam final for the first time since Marat Safin defeated Lleyton Hewitt at the 2005 Australian Open. (For the record, the last Big Four-less US Open final came in 2003, when Andy Roddick knocked off Juan Carlos Ferrero for the title.)
So the 2014 US Open marches on, somewhat uncertain, the promise of a Djokovic-Federer showdown done, replaced by two promising young talents, one of whom will soon be a Grand Slam champion.
Here’s a recap of the day that was and a look ahead to Day 13 of the 2014 US Open:
Match of the Day: In the fourth round, Kei Nishikori went five sets and more than four hours to defeat No. 5 seed and Emirates Airline US Open Series champion Milos Raonic. In the quarterfinals, he went five sets and more than four hours to upset No. 3 seed and reigning Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka. Then, on Saturday, he topped himself yet again, toppling No. 1 seed and seven-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic in perhaps the most shocking result in a tournament full of stunners, advancing to his first Grand Slam final with a 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory. With the win, Nishikori becomes the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final, the lowest-seeded player to reach the men’s final here since Pete Sampras in 2002, and the first player in the Open era to defeat three Top 5 seeds to reach the last stage of the Flushing Meadows men’s singles. For Djokovic, the loss ends his push to reach a fifth consecutive US Open final and adds to his growing list of New York heartbreaks; he has now reached the semifinals or better here for eight consecutive years but has just one title (2011) to show for it.
Upset of the Day: The result was an upset in itself: the No. 14 seed knocking off the No. 2 seed. It was made all the more surprising by the fact the No. 14 seed was Marin Cilic, who was making just his second appearance in a Grand Slam semifinal, against Roger Federer, who has won 17 Grand Slam titles, including five here. And then there was the way in which it went down: utterly routine. The 6-foot-6 Cilic was never bothered under gray skies on this Saturday afternoon, consolidating a break in each set to send the Swiss home a couple of days early, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. Once again, Cilic’s rebuilt serve made the difference. He lost just five points on serve in the first set, offered 13 aces to one double fault in the match, won 87 percent of the points when he got his first serve in play and faced just two break points, getting broken just once. Now he is on to the final to face another first-time finalist, Kei Nishikori, in the most surprising US Open men’s singles final since No. 13 seed Patrick Rafter defeated unseeded Greg Rusedski in 1997.
Player of the Day: Perhaps no one at this year’s US Open has enjoyed a more successful fortnight than Ekaterina Makarova, who on Saturday added the women’s doubles title, with partner Elena Vesnina, to her showing in the women’s singles, where she knocked off Eugenie Bouchard and Victoria Azarenka before losing to Serena Williams in the semis. In Saturday’s doubles final, Makarova and Vesnina bounced back after losing the opening set to Flavia Pennetta and her Hall-of-Fame partner, the returning Martina Hingis, to claim a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory. With it, the two won their second Slam as a tandem, having also captured the French Open title in 2013.
Quote of the Day: “It's fairly simple: I think Marin played great. I maybe didn’t catch my best day, but I think that was pretty much it in a nutshell.” – Roger Federer, when asked to explain what happened following his surprising three-set defeat to Marin Cilic
Looking Ahead: Who thought the women’s draw would be the one delivering a final between favorites? OK, that might be a stretch for Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 10 seed and hardly a pre-tournament pick to take home the women’s title, but she is a past finalist in Flushing Meadows. And Serena is, well, Serena, the favorite in every tournament she plays. Regardless, in the end, an upset-riddled women’s draw has served up a Sunday final to be savored, with Wozniacki earning a date with Serena and Serena hoping to make a date with history.
As noted, this will be the second US Open final of Wozniacki’s career, coming five years after she fell to Kim Clijsters in her maiden trip. Despite finishing the 2010 and 2011 seasons ranked No. 1, she has not returned to a Grand Slam final until now. And to claim her first Slam title, she will need to solve Serena, who holds an 8-1 head-to-head record against her, including 6-1 on hard courts. (Caro’s lone win came in Miami in 2012.) Wozniacki can come in feeling somewhat emboldened after playing Serena tough twice this summer, losing close three-setters in both Montreal and Cincinnati.
With a victory Sunday, Serena would become only second woman in the Open era to win three consecutive women’s singles titles, joining Chris Evert, who won four in a row from 1975 to 1978. A victory would also tie Serena with Evert for the most women’s singles titles in the Open era, with six, and she would match Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam titles overall, which would rank fourth all-time behind only Margaret Court (24), Steffi Graf (22) and Helen Wills Moody (19).
Also looking for a piece of history on this day are Bob and Mike Bryan, who with a victory over Spaniard Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez would claim a record fifth US Open men’s doubles crown, which would set the Open era mark (they currently share the record with Bob Lutz and Stan Smith) and tie the all-time mark (held by Richard Sears and James Dwight, set in the 1880s). The title would also be the 100th career men’s doubles title in the Bryans’ illustrious careers.