7 Sep 2014

Nishikori defeats Djokovic

9:09 am on 7 September 2014

Japanese trailblazer Kei Nishikori has upset world number one Novak Djokovic in brutal conditions at the US Open to become the first Asian man to reach a grand slam tennis final.

Kei Nishikori during his US Open quarterfinal win over Stan Wawrinka, 2014.

Kei Nishikori during his US Open quarterfinal win over Stan Wawrinka, 2014. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Contesting his first-ever grand slam semi-final, Nishikori overcame intense heat and humidity and unnerving winds to triumph 6-4 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 over the top-seeded title favourite.

The against-the-odds victory followed up brave back-to-back five-set comeback wins over Canadian fifth seed Milos Raonic and third-seeded Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka.

The 24-year-old world number 11 will face the winner of Saturday's second semi-final between Swiss second seed and five-times champion Roger Federer and Croatian 14th seed Marin Cilic.

After dropping just one set en route to his eighth successive semi-final at Flushing Meadows, Djokovic was a hot favourite to qualify for his sixth Open final, and fifth straight.

But it was the 2011 champion, not Nishikori, who wilted in the energy-sapping heat.

A year after losing to a qualifier in the first round in New York, Nishikori is now into the title match after ousting three top-five seeds in a sensational giant-killing run.

Nishikori looked to be the one fatiguing as he dropped the second set in just half an hour.

But he hit back in stunning fashion.

The first Japanese man since Jiro Satoh made the last four at Wimbledon in 1933 to feature in a grand slam semi-final, Nishikori broke Djokovic in the third game of the match.

He immediately dropped serve to love the following game, but replied in spectacular fashion, drilling a backhand down the line to set up three more break points and then crunching a forehand return winner to convert for a 4-3 lead in the opening set.

Refusing to relinquish his advantage for a second time, the Japanese underdog sealed the set after 39 minutes when Djokovic netted a backhand return.

Djokovic upped the ante in the second set, forcing errors off both wings from Nishikori, who dropped serve twice and showed increasing signs of fatigue in the brutal conditions.

Serving into the wind and sun, Nishikori had to stave off four break points in a particularly exhausting second game of the third set.

His resilience was rewarded six games later when he followed up a pinpoint backhand pass with a scorching forehand winner to break Djokovic for a 5-3 lead.

Alas for Nishikori, he was unable to serve out the set, double-faulting on break point in what seemed a massive pressure reliever for Djokovic.

But not to be denied, Nishikori regrouped to dominate the top seed in the pivotal tiebreaker.

He roared ahead 4-0, briefly gave Djokovic a sniff with another double-fault before clinching it when the Serb sprayed a forehand wide on set point.

After saving multi match points to beat Roger Federer in the 2010 and 2011 semi-finals and rallying from behind to overcome Wawrinka in the last four last year, Djokovic was never going to go away without a fight.

The Serb created triple break point on Nishikori's opening service game in the fourth set - but again the Japanese battler refused to yield, holding from love-40 down.

That proved to be Djokovic's last stand, with Nishikori - coached by another Asian tennis pioneer in former French Open champion Michael Chang - breaking the world No.1 for a fifth time to prevail on his second match point after two hours and 52 minutes.