The only obstacle left separating No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic from his fifth consecutive US Open final appearance is the 24-year-old "marathon man" from Japan, No. 10 Kei Nishikori. The two will square off in a Saturday semifinal inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Djokovic, 27, has one US Open singles title to his credit, plus six additional Grand Slam singles titles, while Nishikori is making his maiden trek into a major semifinal. Experience edge to Djokovic, clearly.
The matchup pits the two stars who have delivered the best defensive play thus far in New York. Djokovic breezed through his first week without dropping a set before a quarterfinal meeting with rival Andy Murray. In that nighttime bout, Djokovic labored for the first time at the 2014 US Open, getting into long rallies and committing an uncharacterisitic 46 unforced errors.
But Djokovic's shotmaking bailed him out in that match, and he'll be called upon again today to come up with big shots in the clutch against Nishikori, who has played 10 sets - four of them tiebreak sets - this week, logging a total of 13 hours, 34 minutes on court to this point. Compare that to Djokovic's relatively efficient 10 hours, five minutes of court time to through five matches. Nishikori has simply refused to lose, hanging tough with bigger and stronger players. He's hit many highlight-reel backhands down the line this week after creating a more open court off of his forehand.
Djokovic and Nishikori have faced off twice before, splitting those two matches. Their one meeting at a Slam came in the second round of the 2010 French Open. On that day, Djokovic tamed Nishikori 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.
Nishikori's toe injury, which sidelined him this summer, seems fully healed at this point. It certainly hasn't affected his speed or shotmaking so far. Djokovic said of Nishikori: "I think he's playing the best tennis of his life in the last 12 months."
In the next 24 hours, we'll know if that's good enough to beat the top-ranked player in the world at the US Open.