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Marathon win sends Nishikori into quarterfinals

AP

Kei Nishikori rallied for a five-set victory over fifth-seeded Milos Raonic to reach his first U.S. Open quarterfinal.

The 10th-seeded Nishikori won 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (6-8), 7-5, 6-4 in a match that ended at 2:26 a.m. Tuesday, tying the latest finish in tournament history.

The win made the Shimane native the first Japanese man to make the U.S. quarterfinals since Zenzo Shimizu 92 years ago.

Raonic couldn’t get anything going against Nishikori’s serve in the final two sets, unable to force a single break point. And Nishikori earned the two breaks he would need.

“Tried to fight every point, and when I have to play well, I did,” he said.

Nishikori pushed Raonic all over the court, finishing off the match with an easy volley after 4 hours, 19 minutes. He will next face Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka.

“His foot speed was the most probably difficult part,” Raonic said. “He was taking the ball very early, controlling the center of the court. He was keeping himself in a lot of situations where someone might be out of position. He was getting himself in good position and giving himself good opportunity to swing at the ball properly.”

Raonic couldn’t follow up his historic semifinal appearance at Wimbledon with another deep Grand Slam run. He got in just 55 percent of his first serves, and Nishikori took advantage.

A severely infected right big toe forced Nishikori to miss tuneup events before the U.S. Open, but the layoff didn’t seem to hamper his stamina. Nishikori, who got his foot re-wrapped early in the fourth set, looked like the fitter player at the end.

“I was doing a lot of training, but not tennis-wise. I started playing points a couple days ago before the tournament,” Nishikori said. “I wasn’t expecting (a) big result like this, but after the first round I got more confidence on my foot. It’s all good now.”

With the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium thinning deep into the night, Japanese fans chanted loudly for Nishikori. The 24-year-old had lost to the 23-year-old Raonic in this round at Wimbledon in a matchup of two of the tour’s top young players. Raonic went on to become the first Canadian man in the Open era to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.

Philipp Kohlschreiber’s third-round win over John Isner in the 2012 U.S. Open, and Mats Wilander’s second-round victory over Mikael Pernfors in 1993 also ended at 2:26 a.m.

In earlier action, eighth-seeded Andy Murray beat No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 35 minutes.

“I don’t feel like I’m that far away from playing my best tennis,” Murray said.

He hasn’t reached a tournament final since back surgery late last year. Coming into the U.S. Open, Murray felt he was playing well but lamented that he was struggling to close out matches.

In a tight one against a tough opponent on Monday, Murray won enough crucial points to pull out the win in straight sets.

Tsonga had three break points to go up 3-0 in the third, but Murray fought them off to swing the momentum. He promptly broke in the next game to get the set back on serve, and then closed out the match with another break.

Murray, who still isn’t sure why cramps struck so early in his opening match last Monday, drank too many fluids this time and gave himself a stomachache.

It was a tough draw for both players — and gets even tougher for Murray, who next faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That matchup feels much more like a Grand Slam title match than a quarterfinal, and for good reason. Murray and Djokovic have met five times in major tournaments, with four coming in the finals; the other was a semifinal.

Tsonga rolled into the U.S. Open full of confidence after beating Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer in Toronto to win the title. In Tsonga’s 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Murray in early August, he was the one winning the key points in a close match.

“Tennis, it’s never a straight line. It’s always like this,” Tsonga said, tracing peaks and valleys with his hand. “So today it was like this maybe at the wrong moment.”

Murray hasn’t been back to a final since becoming the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon in July 2013. He beat Djokovic to clinch that title and also defeated him at the 2012 U.S. Open for the first Grand Slam championship by a British man in 76 years.

“Great memories from that match,” Murray said in an on-court interview. “Hope we can play another top-level match.”

After beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 earlier Monday, Djokovic called the prospect of facing Murray or Tsonga a “very tough, tough draw.”

Murray, he said, “knows how to play center court U.S. Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches.”

They went to five sets twice in 2012, in Djokovic’s win in the Australian Open semis and Murray’s breakthrough victory in the U.S. Open.

When Murray’s ranking slipped after the surgery, it left him vulnerable to this sort of draw: He could potentially play Tsonga, Djokovic, Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four rounds. Wawrinka outlasted 16th-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 on Monday.

In women’s action, bothered by the heat and stifling humidity, Eugenie Bouchard felt dizzy and her vision was blurry in the second set.

Bouchard tried to carry on, but it was hardly an ideal time to try to win a tennis match. The No. 7-seeded Bouchard became the latest top woman to bow out at this surprise-filled U.S. Open, beaten 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 by 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia in the fourth round.

Petra Kvitova defeated Bouchard at Wimbledon; Kvitova departed in the third round in Flushing Meadows against 145th-ranked qualifier Aleksandra Krunic, who tried to pull off another shocker against two-time U.S. Open runnerup Victoria Azarenka but couldn’t quite do it. Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, took four of the last five games to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Serena Williams got to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal of 2014 by overwhelming 50th-ranked Kaia Kanepi of Estonia 6-3, 6-3.