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Kei Nishikori dethrones No. 1 Novak Djokovic to reach U.S. Open final

Kei Nishikori reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic in

Kei Nishikori reacts after defeating Novak Djokovic in four sets, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, in the men's semifinals match at the U.S. Open Tennis Championships at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing on Sept. 6, 2014. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Since 2008, Japan's satellite television station -- WOWOW -- has aired each of the four Grand Slam tournaments live. On Saturday, it got a real Wow of a tennis story: Kei Nishikori upsetting No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open semifinals, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

With the victory, the 24-year-old Nishikori becomes the first Japanese player to reach a Slam final and the first male from Asia to reach a major-tournament championship match. He already was the first Japanese player to break into the world rankings' Top 10 and now has climbed to No. 8.

"I hope it's big news in Japan," said Nishikori, who has trained at the Bollettieri academy in Florida since he was 13. "It's 4 o'clock in the morning there, but I hope a lot of people were watching."

Djokovic, whose seven major titles have made him a celebrity and inspiration in his native Serbia, called Nishikori's breakthrough "huge for Japan."

"He's been around for the last couple of years," Djokovic said. "But playing finals of a Grand Slam and now fighting for the title is definitely something different. This can be great encouragement for tennis in that country. He has gotten to another level, and I'm sure people will praise him."

Especially given that Saturday's result just didn't calculate. Djokovic, who added a second Wimbledon title to his resume in July, had been cruising through the Open. He repeatedly insisted that his post-Wimbledon marriage, and his wife's pregnancy, did not affect his focus or training for the Open.

Nishikori has battled a series of injuries in his career, had a cyst removed from his foot last month and spent two weeks hitting balls while sitting. To reach Saturday's match, he had expended enormous physical and emotional energy, only to be met with 90-degree heat, crushing humidity and wind.

He had played until 2:26 in the morning Tuesday -- tying the Open record for the latest conclusion of play -- and followed that 4-hour, 19-minute, five-set match with another five-setter in 4:15.

"Little bit heavy and humid today," he said. "But I guess I love to play long matches. I don't know. I guess I'm too strong."

This one took a mere 2:52 and was anyone's match when the two dug into the third game of the third set, one set apiece and tied 1-1. With Nishikori serving, they played 20 points and went to deuce seven times as Nishikori squandered four game points but also saved four break points to eventually hold serve.

And the first real dashing of Djokovic's hopes was coming. In the set's tiebreaker, Djokovic missed two backhands and a forehand, fell behind 4-0 and wound up losing it, 7-4. Nishikori then immediately broke Djokovic's serve to start the fourth and finished off Djokovic with another service break in the ninth game.

"I don't know what's going on," Nishikori said. "With my first semifinal of a Grand Slam, it's just amazing, amazing feeling, beating No. 1 player."

Worth an exclamation of surprise and wonder.

New York Sports