Kei Nishikori progressed to the final of the US Open on Saturday after an exhilarating four sets win over Serbia’s Novak Djokovic.
The tenth seed sealed a 6-4 1-6 7-6(4), 6-3 win over Djokovic to improve his ATP head-to-head rating against the Wimbledon champion to 2-1 and become the first Asian man ever to advance into a Grand Slam championship final.
The Japanese will play either second seed and five-time champion Roger Federer or 14th seed Marin Cilic in Monday’s final.
2011 champion Djokovic was attempting to reach his fifth successive US Open final but fell short of his consistent best in the opening set.
After overcoming a test in his opening service game of the first set, the 24-year-old broke serve for a 2-1 lead. Djokovic broke back to love in the fourth game after trailing 15-40 but was soon pegged behind for 5-3 by his opponent.
The top seed saved, but one break point insufficient to stop Nishikori from closing out the set in 38 minutes with an inside out backhand winner, which worked effectively for him in the opening period.
Contesting in his 24th Grand Slam last 4 and his 8th in succession in Flushing Meadow, the world number one started to find his range in the second set. A forehand winner gave him a 3-1 lead, as Nishikori’s defensive game started faltering. The 27-year-old dominated the baseline rallies and went on to complete the set in 30 minutes with his sixth ace.
Nishikori kept hopes alive in the early stages of the third set and upped his gears at 4-3. He however failed to serve out the set, gifting Djokovic an immediate break for 5-4 with 2 unforced errors.
The Japanese, in the wake of back-to-back five sets win over two Top 10 players, No. 5 seed Milos Raonic and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, respectively, regained momentum in the third set tie-break.
He took a 4-0 lead courtesy of the agressive game helped figured out by coach, Michael Chang (a 1996 US Open finalist). Djokovic sneaked his way back to 4-2, but double faulted. Nishikori grabbed the tie-break to move within a set of his maiden US Open final, despite coming up with a double fault of his own at 5-3 in the third set tie-break.
Momentum continued to befriend Nishikori, as Djokovic dropped serve in the first game of the fourth set. The Asian then claimed a 22-shot rally to dig his way out of a 0-40 deficit in the succeeding game and move 2-0 up.
The world number 11 continued his positive play and drew an error from Djokovic at 5-3 to edge just two match points away from history. He clinched the second when Djokovic’s forehand went down the tramlines.