NEW YORK (AP) — 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, according to the ATP Tour.
Nishikori won the rematch of the 2014 final with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory in a match that lasted 4 hours, 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 in the professional era that began in 1968 had Japan had 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.
Each man blew chances to gain control and perhaps have a much quicker ending to a match that had wild swings of momentum.
Cilic appeared to be coasting after taking the first set and opening a 4-2 lead in the second. The Croatian then had the lead in the third-set tiebreaker until double-faulting on consecutive serves.
After Cilic evened the match by taking the fourth following a 10-minute break for heat, Nishikori was on the verge with running away with the fifth, holding a break point for a 5-1 lead. Instead, Cilic held and then broke Nishikori on his way to evening the set at 4-all, but then Nishikori took the final two games.
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 either No. 6 seed Novak Djokovic or unseeded John Millman 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 US 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 either 14th-seeded Madison Keys or No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro 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, claiming 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 high-80s (30s Celsius) but feeling some 10 degrees hotter with 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.”