Sports

Japan’s Nishikori Outlasts No. 3 Wawrinka For Spot In US Open Semifinals

Marathon Match Ends 6-4 In The 5th, No. 10 Seed To Face Djokovic-Murray Winner
Kei Nishikori of Japan returns a shot against Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland during the US Open quarterfinals on Sept. 3, 2014. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Kei Nishikori of Japan returns a shot against Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland during the US Open quarterfinals on Sept. 3, 2014. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — They are partying in the Far East.

Kei Nishikori became the first man from Japan to reach the U.S. Open semifinals in 96 years, outlasting third-seeded Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4 on Wednesday.

The match went 4 hours, 15 minutes, and the 10th-seeded Nishikori managed to shake off any lingering exhaustion from his previous victory, which lasted 4:19 and ended at 2:26 a.m. Tuesday, equaling the latest finish in tournament history.

Nishikori began slowly against the Australian Open champion, but eventually got his bearings and used crisp returns and strong net play to edge ahead.

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In Saturday’s semifinals, Nishikori will face No. 1 Novak Djokovic or No. 8 Andy Murray, who each owns a U.S. Open title. They were to play their quarterfinal match Wednesday night.

The last Japanese semifinalist at the U.S. Open was Ichiya Kumagae in 1918. No man from the country had made it to the final four at any major tournament since Jiri Satoh at Wimbledon in 1933.

Nishikori already was the first Japanese man to be ranked in the ATP’s top 10, having climbed to No. 9 in May. He came into the U.S. Open without a lot of proper preparation, because he was sidelined after having a cyst removed from his right foot in early August.

Nishikori, who is coached by 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, had never eliminated top-10 opponents in consecutive matches at a major tournament. The fourth-round marathon win against No. 5 Milos Raonic put Nishikori in his second career Grand Slam quarterfinal; he lost in that round at the 2012 Australian Open.

Wawrinka had won 15 of his last 16 hard-court Grand Slam matches, a stretch that includes a run to his first major semifinal at last year’s U.S. Open and his first Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open.

He also had a lot less wear-and-tear on his body over the past 1 1/2 weeks, thanks in part to getting a walkover when the man he was supposed to play in the third round withdrew with an injury.

But in the end, it was Wawrinka who faltered down the stretch, getting broken to close the match when he slapped a forehand into the net. Nishikori did not really celebrate much, simply looking to the sky as he walked to the net. Chang leaped to his feet and pumped his fists in the stands.

While the 24-year-old Nishikori put on a brave face before facing Wawrinka, saying he expected to be fine, things did not appear to be OK in the early going. Between points, Nishikori would shake his arms or legs, or flex his hands. During a changeover, he placed a bag of ice on his forehead.

Both men were mostly content to remain anchored near the baseline, swapping booming groundstrokes in lengthy exchanges. And it was Wawrinka who got the better of most of that type of point in the first set, outmuscling Nishikori over and over.

Nishikori got his bearings in the second set, though, coming forward more often. When Wawrinka sailed a backhand long then double-faulted to get broken, it evened the match at a set apiece.

The third set wound up being much more of a struggle than it needed to be for Nishikori, who held a set point at 5-2 but put a forehand into the net. He then served for the set at 5-3 but got broken in a sloppy game, including one misguided attempt at a between-the-legs shot that found the net and left Chang hanging his head.

Nishikori came within two points of ending the match in the fourth-set tiebreaker, but his two errant groundstrokes sent the match to a fifth.

On the women’s side, Ekaterina Makarova believes she deserves to play under the brightest lights.

The 26-year-old Russian reached her first Grand Slam semifinal Wednesday, beating Victoria Azarenka in straight sets at the U.S. Open. Makarova won 6-4, 6-2 after losing her previous four major quarterfinals.

“Before maybe I didn’t believe that much that I can come through,” she said. “Today definitely was a different feeling.”

Azarenka acknowledged she suffered from food poisoning the day before but didn’t want to talk about how it might have affected her. Unusually subdued for most of the match, she smashed her racket after one of her 27 unforced errors gave Makarova a break and a 4-2 lead in the second set.

“I’m not going to make any excuses,” she said. “I did the best I could today. I want to give full credit to my opponent. She deserves to win. She played much better than me today.”

The players were 16th and 17th in the seedings but came in with very different resumes. Azarenka is a two-time Australian Open champion who lost to Serena Williams in the last two U.S. Open finals.

Yet in some ways, falling short of the semifinals would have been more distressing for Makarova, who lost to Lucie Safarova in straight sets in the Wimbledon quarters this summer.

“I really believed that at (this) U.S. Open I can do my best result,” Makarova said. “I felt that I’m ready.”

Azarenka arrived at Flushing Meadows having played just eight matches since the Australian Open because of foot and knee injuries, her ranking plunging. She got five in here, a huge help to rediscovering her rhythm.

“I can take positive from this tournament,” Azarenka said. “Two months ago, I didn’t even think that I was going to be able to play.”

But she had often looked shaky against qualifier Aleksandra Krunic in the fourth round before eking out a three-set victory, and Makarova took full advantage of Azarenka’s mistakes.

Makarova was coming off a straight-set upset of Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard. Against Azarenka, the lefty’s deep groundstrokes kept on the pressure.

Down an early break in the first set, Makarova immediately broke back and looked sharp the rest of the way. She has yet to drop a set at Flushing Meadows.

Her semifinal opponent could be Williams. The two-time defending champ faced 11th-seeded Flavia Pennetta to open the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray take the court after that for a rematch of the 2012 U.S. Open final. Stan Wawrinka was playing Kei Nishikori in the other men’s quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon.

Now that Makarova is in her first major semifinal, maybe everyone will learn to pronounce her name. It’s Ma-KA-ro-va, not MA-ka-ro-va.

Still, she’s perfectly amused that tournaments have started playing “The Macarena” over the stadium loudspeakers after she clinches a victory.

She does indeed know how to do the dance. Unlike Azarenka, who sang in her on-court interview after her last match, Makarova is in no hurry to show off her moves.

But asked whether holding up a trophy at the end of the U.S. Open would be cause to break them out, she smiled and said: “Yes.”

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