Under cover of darkness, in the wee hours of yesterday morning, Japan's Kei Nishikori slipped into the U.S. Open men's quarterfinals, a stealth contender among the more recognizable names.
The 24-year-old Nishikori, seeded 10th, concluded a 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-4 upset of Canada's No. 5-seeded Milos Raonic at 2:26 in the morning, equaling the latest finish in Open history.
"Really tough five sets," Nishikori said. "I had a chance in the tiebreak in the third and I made double faults. Very tough to concentrate again. Took some chances. I broke his serve almost every set" -- four of the five, despite Raonic's 35 aces and 144-mph serve.
So, for the casual tennis fan not particularly familiar with Nishikori, who Wednesday will play reigning Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, a little background:
Nishikori, who has been referred to as "Japan's Rising Son," is yet another product of Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, having enrolled there when he was 13, with the express purpose of surpassing the highest ranking ever by a male Japanese player.
That ranking was the No. 46 that Shuzo Matsuoka, Nishikori's idol and mentor, achieved in July 1992. So Nishikori's campaign was labeled "Project 45" and, in October 2011, he shot past 46 to 30.
His coach, since January, is Michael Chang, who played in 57 Grand Slam tournaments, won the 1989 French Open as a 17-year-old and three times was runner-up, including the 1996 U.S. Open, when he lost to Pete Sampras.