The No. 1 men’s tennis player and expected finalist in Monday night’s U.S. Open was ousted in one of the bigger upsets in tennis history here Saturday.
Novak Djokovic went down to Kei Nishikori of Japan, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
There was nothing fluky about it. Nishikori out-ran and out-hit the seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion, and with the victory became the first Japanese man to make a Grand Slam final.
He is also the first from his country to play in a U.S. Open semifinal since Ichya Kumagae in 1918.
Nishikori played a pair of four-hour-plus matches in the fourth round and quarterfinals just to get his shot at Djokovic. This one was just shy of three hours, and match point came with Djokovic, looking battered and overwhelmed, serving at 3-5 just to force Nishikori to have to serve for the match.
But Nishikori, a step faster and a tad sharper all day, stepped in on Djokovic’s second serve at 15-30 and cranked the 88 mile-an-hour high-kicker perfectly down the line for a winner and match point.
After Djokovic saved one with a 123 mph serve that Nishikori couldn’t return, he flailed a forehand long in the next rally and it was all over.
A shriek of both shock and joy leaped from the stadium, and Nishikori, in an on-court interview immediately after, assured the interviewer that this would be big in Japan.
The temperature hovered around 90 degrees, with 61% humidity for much of the match. On the court, it was likely closer to 100 degrees.
Djokovic refused to use that as an excuse.
“The conditions were the same for both players,” he said, an acknowledgment that it was horrid heat to play in, but that Nishikori had handled it better.
“Other than the second set,” Djokovic said, “my game today was less than I expected.
“I tried to do my best and I did. It just wasn’t good enough.”
Minutes after Nishikori left the stadium, clouds rolled in and rain poured down, temporarily postponing the other semifinal between Roger Federer and Marin Cilic.