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Novak Djokovic tops Andy Murray; Kei Nishikori ousts Stan Wawrinka

Kei Nishikori reacts against Stan Wawrinka during a

Kei Nishikori reacts against Stan Wawrinka during a men's singles quarterfinal at the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament on Wednesday, September 3, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Another past-your-bedtime U.S. Open story in the land of tennis magic: Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, in their quarterfinal match that stretched from evening to 1:16 this morning, went round and round in championship-final form until Murray experienced back discomfort and Djokovic at last closed out a 7-6 (1), 6-7 (1), 6-2, 6-4 victory.

It took almost three hours for Djokovic to get a real grip on the lead. Until then, it was a show of physical contortion and analytical geometry, performance art utilizing time, space, the performers' bodies and the presence of an extremely live medium -- 23,000 oohing, aahing, whistling, bellowing spectators inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Djokovic Gumby-ed across the court for impossible gets. Murray rocketed offensive groundstrokes from far behind the baseline. They rallied long and hard. Went from touch lobs to dastardly drop shots to slam-dunk overheads. And ran all around the big room.

The first time either man's efficiency wavered was when Murphy double-faulted at the outset of the first-set tiebreaker and quickly lost it, 7-1. But Djokovic experienced a mirror meltdown in losing the second-set tiebreaker by the same score.

And on they played, fellow major-tournament champions known to leave the stage reluctantly. In 2012, they tied the record for the longest U.S. Open final -- 4 hours, 54 minutes -- won by Murray. In the 2012 Australian Open semifinal, won by Djokovic, they played for 4:50.

Wednesday, there also was another tale about elapsed time. When Kei Nishikori finished an exhausting 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4 victory over reigning Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, it was not the first time a Japanese man advanced to the U.S. semifinals.

But that previously occurred in 1918, 50 years before the then-all-amateur tournament became the U.S. Open. That semifinalist was Ichiya Kumagae, and his run to the penultimate match came two years before Bill Tilden won the first of his still-record seven U.S. titles.

Before the 24-year-old, Bollettieri Academy-trained, Michael Chang-coached Nishikori, no Japanese man even reached the U.S. quarters since Zenzo Shimidzu in 1922. The only other Japanese man to make any Grand Slam semifinal was Jiro Satoh, at Wimbledon, in 1933.

More history: Nishikori became the first player to win at the Open after playing past 2 a.m. in his previous match. (He finished off No. 5 seed Milos Raonic at 2:26 Tuesday morning (and got to sleep at 6 a.m.).

"I was a little bit tired [Tuesday]," Nishikori said, "but today was not 100 percent, but close. Feeling pretty good."

The match took four hours and 15 minutes and Nishikori, who has lived in Florida for 10 years, said, "I hope this is big news in Japan."

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