NEW YORK – Kei Nishikori rallied to outlast Marin Cilic on Wednesday at the U.S. Open, giving Japan a men’s and women’s semifinalist at the same Grand Slam for the first time in the professional era.
Nishikori won the rematch of the 2014 final with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 victory in a match that lasted 4 hours and 8 minutes.
In the match before Nishikori’s, Naomi Osaka moved into her first Grand Slam semifinal by routing Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1.
Only once previously in the professional era, which began in 1968, did Japan have a men’s and women’s player in the quarterfinals at the same tournament. That was at Wimbledon in 1995, and both Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date lost in that round.
The seventh-seeded Cilic won the 2014 final in straight sets for his only career major title. Nishikori said this week that he was nervous once that match began, but this one was nothing like that day.
Instead, it resembled their 2010 second-round match in Flushing Meadows, when Nishikori rallied to win in five sets in 4:59, the fifth-longest men’s singles match by time in U.S. Open history.
The No. 21 seed continued his strong season after returning from a wrist injury that forced him to miss the U.S. Open last year and will play No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic on Friday.
“I wish I don’t go to five sets every time,” Nishikori said.
Osaka had it much easier, continuing what’s been a largely dominant run through the draw by winning in just 57 minutes, the third time in her five matches she didn’t even have to play an hour.
The No. 20 seed moved from Japan to New York at age 3, and her deepest major run is coming at the same tournament she first visited as a child.
“Well, it definitely means a lot for me, and I always thought if I were to win a Grand Slam, the first one I’d want to win is the U.S. Open, because I have grown up here and, like, then my grandparents can come and watch,” she said. “I think it would be really cool.”
She raced to a 3-0 lead in the first set and then 4-0 in the second against the shaky Tsurenko, who finished with more unforced errors than points in her first major quarterfinal.
Osaka will face 14th-seeded Madison Keys in the first major semifinal appearance for a Japanese woman since Date reached the final four at Wimbledon in 1996.
The 20-year-old said she was nervous and claimed to be “freaking out inside,” though it certainly never showed.
“Just like, my entire body was shaking, so I’m really glad I was able to play well today,” she said.
She won 59 points to just 28 for the unseeded Ukrainian, who knocked off No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.
But Tsurenko said she was sick Wednesday, waking up with a sore throat and not breathing well.
“Unfortunately during this tournament I had many issues with my health, and today was not my day obviously. I was not feeling well,” she said.
Osaka had consecutive 50-minute matches earlier in the tournament, including a 6-0, 6-0 thrashing of Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the third round.
She was finally tested in the round of 16, edging past No. 26 Aryna Sabalenka 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 in a little more than 2 hours, but she was back in complete control against Tsurenko, winning 20 of 22 points (91 percent) on her first serve.
Tsurenko labored in the heat during her fourth-round victory over Marketa Vondrousova, having her temperature and blood checked during a medical timeout in the first set and nearly quitting when she trailed early in the second. She recovered to win in three sets, with her opponent accusing her of acting after the match.
It was another hot afternoon Wednesday, with temperatures in the 30s C, but feeling much hotter due to the humidity.
Tsurenko didn’t appear bothered by the conditions, but whether it was her health or just first-time jitters, she was off from the minute she stepped onto Arthur Ashe Stadium.
She pushed some balls a few feet past the baseline, often failing to make Osaka do anything special to win a point and finishing with 31 unforced errors.
“I hate matches like this,” Tsurenko said. “I didn’t want to show this kind of game in front of this big crowd, but unfortunately I’m just not able to play now.”
Osaka’s next opponent Keys was one of four American women in the U.S. Open semifinals a year ago, when she was the runner-up.
She’s the only member of that quartet who made it back to that round, using her big-strike game built on serves and forehands to overpower No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-4, 6-3.
The 23-year-old thinks she is more equipped than ever to deal with important moments on important stages.
“I’ve gotten a lot better managing my emotions once it gets to this part and knowing that everything is going to be probably more amped up,” Keys said. “And not shying away from those, but just really being honest about it and talking about it.”
In the day’s other men’s quarterfinal, Novak Djokovic managed to do what Roger Federer could not: beat 55th-ranked John Millman at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic moved a step closer to a third championship at Flushing Meadows and 14th Grand Slam title overall by eliminating Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
July’s Wimbledon champion had been drawn to face Federer with a semifinal berth at stake. But Millman scuttled that showdown by stunning the 20-time Grand Slam champ in four sets in the fourth round on a hot and humid evening that Federer said sapped his energy and made it hard to breathe.
This one wasn’t exactly simple for Djokovic: He only converted four of 20 break points. And he finished with 53 unforced errors.
But he did move on, and now will face Kei Nishikori in the semifinals.
“I was, alongside many other people, anticipating the match against Federer,” Djokovic said.
This night was cooler, as the temperature dipped, but the humidity was above 80 percent, so with Millman drenched, he sought permission for a wardrobe change at 2-2 in the second set. It was odd enough to see a player be allowed to do that during, instead of after, a set, but even odder for it to happen after an even number of games, rather than at an odd-game changeover.
“I was struggling. He was struggling. We were all sweating. Changing a lot of T-shirts, shorts,” said Djokovic. “Just trying to find a way to hang in there.”
Widely considered the best returner in the game, Djokovic kept accumulating chances — and then failing to cash them in. He was able to come through on only four of his 20 break points.
There were other issues for him, too, including in the third set when, ahead by a break, he was called by the chair umpire for allowing the 25-second serve clock, making its Grand Slam debut at this tournament, to run out on back-to-back points. After the first, he double-faulted, and he wound up getting broken there.
But he broke back in the match’s next-to-last game, then served out the victory at love.
“I think the guy’s beat a brick wall once,” Millman said, “because he makes you work hard for every point and it’s relentless.”