THIS US Open always had the feel of tumult about it â€“ but nobody thought Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic would be making history together in Mondayâ€™s final, leaving in their wake two legends of the modern game, the world No1, Novak Djokovic, then Roger Federer, who has won here five times but might not now, at 33, win that 18th career major that has eluded him for two years.
Nishikori beat Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 then a rumbling thunderstorm by mere minutes to reach his first grand slam final. A few hours later, 25-year-old Cilic, too long a prodigy, also secured his debut in the final of a major, using a swirling early-evening wind under threatening skies and his own intuitive tennis to beat Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in just an hour and 45 minutes, ending the Swissâ€™s rejuvenated dream of one more grab at glory.
The Croat, resisting 12 Swiss aces, also tamed Federer at the net, where he has been having increased success, and finished the job in front of a stunned Arthur Ashe court with a perfect single-handed backhand down the line, his beaten foeâ€™s trademark shot.
As if ordered up by the tennis gods, the skies again grew dark, like a curtain closing on an era. Maybe this really is the point in the evolution of the game where the insurrectionists take over, when the likes of Federer, Djokovic, Andy Murray and the absent Rafael Nadal no longer can presume to be the lords of the final weekend in grand slams.
â€œIt was just an amazing day for me to be able to play like this,â€ Cilic, seeded 14, said . â€œI never dreamt of such a day. It was the best performance ever in my career.â€ Looking forward to Mondayâ€™s final, he said: â€œItâ€™s going to be a sensational day for both of us. Iâ€™m just going to enjoy it.â€
John McEnroe observed: â€œHis groundstrokes were awesome.â€ Earlier, there were similar flashes of brilliance from Nishikori.
Seeded 10 but playing like a champion, the 24-year-old Japanese player did to Djokovic in four sets in the heat of the day what Murray could not do to him in the still of the night over the same distance in the quarters â€“ so he has much to be proud of.
As he left the site, he heard Cilic had taken a two-set lead â€“ the second match in a row that Federer has looked down and out, but this time falling short. He will know, too, Cilic was a set and 5-1 up against Murray here in the fourth round two years ago and lost. He will be aware of his own 5-2 career record against Cilic.
And Nishikori will know one more thing: history is on his racket. If he takes his chances, as he has done in his past three matches â€“ and never with more conviction than when outlasting the world No1 â€“ he can become the first Asian man in the Open era to win a grand slam title. He is already the first to reach a final, in fact, the first to reach a semiâ€‘final.
He is also the first Japanese man to reach the US semi-finals since Ichiya Kumagae the year the first world war ended. This is a pleasing curve for a most pleasant individual, and he said later: â€œI hope they were staying up to watch me, even though it was four oâ€™clock in the morning.â€
They surely were. He already had received 20 personal messages. If he wins the final, there might be a few ratings records broken in Japan.
Nishikori revealed he did not think he would even be in the tournament after he had surgery for the removal of a cyst in August. â€œI only started playing points a few days before the tournament,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t even know if I would come to New York. I wasnâ€™t expecting anything. But, after [two matches], I had more confidence in my foot and [played without pain]. I was starting to slide a little more. But my tennis was there already.â€
He claimed to have no preference for an opponent in the final, reflecting confidence that has grown since he broke into the top 10 for the first time, in the summer â€“ although he admitted he did not relish a fifth set against Djokovic. â€œI believed if it went to a fifth set I didnâ€™t think I could run. Very happy to finish in four sets.â€
Despite this, Nishikori might be the fresher of the finalists, even though getting from the fourth round to the final has demanded 14 very tough sets from him.
He will be the one with the quality tennis in the bank, having completed a hat-trick of wins against the fifth seed, Milos Raonic, the third seed, Stanislas Wawrinka, and now Djokovic, who was so drained and desolate afterwards he hinted that this might be his last match of the year.
He has been asked many times if his marriage to Jelena Ristic after winning Wimbledon in June and the pending arrival of their first child had distracted him, and was firm in his protestation to the contrary.
However, he seemed strangely uncertain in defeat, at first refusing to confirm that he would play again this year, expressing doubt about taking part in Serbiaâ€™s Davis Cup tie against India next week, then declaring he had signed for the Indian Premier League of Tennis, due to start in Dubai in December â€“ if it starts at all.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Djokovic said of his remaining schedule. â€œItâ€™s too early. I donâ€™t know yet. Just got off the court. I donâ€™t know.â€
Uncertainty was the motif of the day. There is more of it to come â€“ and that is no bad thing. – The Guardian