Nishikori’s U.S. Open tilt ends with third-round defeat to Cilic

Kyodo, AP

Kei Nishikori crashed out of the U.S. Open on Saturday with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 third-round defeat to Croatia’s Marin Cilic.

Nishikori, the 17th seed, was attempting to reach the last 16 for the second time in the event. The 22-year-old, however, couldn’t cope with the big-serving Cilic, who fired 12 aces. Nishikori, who hadn’t dropped a set in his first two matches, both against qualifiers, needed a tiebreak to take the third set, but couldn’t slow the Croat’s progress.

“Neither my serve nor my returns were very good, and I couldn’t get any kind of rhythm going,” Nishikori said. “I couldn’t get my forehand returns in and couldn’t approach the net with confidence.

“My opponent was simply playing at a higher level than I was.”

Meanwhile, fourth-seeded Serena Williams got into high gear after splitting the first eight games against 42nd-ranked Ekaterina Makarova of Russia and breezed to a 6-4, 6-0 victory, reeling off the last eight games in a row.

“Definitely was motivated. Knowing that I lost; could definitely happen again. Did not want that to happen,” said Williams, who lost to Makarova at the Australian Open in January.

“I really hate watching matches that I lose, unless I’m punishing myself,” added the 14-time Grand Slam champion. “I didn’t punish myself.”

She hasn’t been losing much lately.

Since the only first-round Grand Slam exit of her career, against 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano at the French Open on May 29, Williams is 22-1 in singles, including the title at Wimbledon and gold medal at the London Olympics.

That sort of excellence sure saves money for clothes: Williams said she threw out all of the dresses she brought to Paris to wear during matches there.

No such problems so far in New York, where Williams has dropped only 12 games entering her fourth-round match against 82nd-round Andrea Hlavackova of Czech Republic. Hlavackova, the 2011 French Open doubles champion, bawled on court after her 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 win over 14th-seeded Maria Kirilenko, whose boyfriend, Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin, was in New York to cheer for her.

The woman Williams beat in the Wimbledon final, second-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, dealt with the 32-degree heat and former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic with equal aplomb during a 6-3, 7-5 victory.

“I was melting there,” Radwanska said. “I survived the match.”

She wasn’t the only one who felt that way.

Olympic champion Andy Murray, still seeking his first Grand Slam title after four losses in finals, eked out a 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4) victory over No. 30 Feliciano Lopez, who led in each of the three tiebreakers before faltering.

“Could have gone either way,” Murray acknowledged. “It was very hot and humid in the middle part of the match. I was struggling a bit with that.”

The man he beat for the gold at the Summer Games, and lost to in the Wimbledon title match, Roger Federer, is also Murray’s potential semifinal opponent in New York. Federer, as is often the case, barely was bothered Saturday while dismissing No. 25 Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

Five of Federer’s record 17 Grand Slam titles came at Flushing Meadows, and he’s sure looking capable of adding to those numbers.

“He didn’t give me many chances with his serve,” observed Verdasco, who held only one break point and failed to convert it.

Federer also was pretty good at the net, winning 26 of the 27 points when he moved forward. He next will take on No. 23 Mardy Fish, who needed to set aside 75 unforced errors over more than 3 hours to beat No. 16 Gilles Simon 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3 in a match that ended after 1 a.m. Sunday.