The 14th seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia became the lowest ranked player to win the men’s title at the US Open since Pete Sampras in 2002. He shut down 11-seed Kei Nishikori in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. The final line-up was a surprise, when each man beat the #2 and #1 seeds, respectively, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, in a semi-finals day of upsets on Saturday. This was the first final since the Australian Open 2005 to feature none of the so-called “Big Four,” (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray,) and only the third of the last 39 men’s finals not to be won by one of them.
The loss is a disappointment for Japanese fans, who were rallied behind Nishikori as the first Asian man to come so far in a Major tournament, including semis. Nishikori, who had debated even playing here, after a recent surgery on his toe, had a tough road to the final, having to defeat three top-5 players in the last 3 rounds, two of which went to five sets, and one, against Wawrinka (3) that finished at 2:26am, tying the latest matches ever at the Open. Cilic, for his part, beat two top-6 seeds.
While the match started nervously from both, they held serve until the 6th game in the first set, when Cilic got the break. Cilic he also broke in the 4th game of the second set, and the fifth game of the third. Once he had the breaks, he only needed to hold serve and did. Cilic’s percentage of first serve points won, 80% versus 55% for Nishikori was one of the telling stats of the match. Additionally, Nishikori’s winners-to-unforced errors count was 19-30, whereas Cilic put up 38-27. The 5’10″ Nishikori had trouble finding open space in the court against the 6’6″ wingspan of the Croat. But, in the end, Cilic was the one with purpose and focus, and didn’t let the Japanese man into the match. Nishikori, for his part, wasn’t allowed to play his tricky, agile game, being shut down but Cilic’s big serve and powerful hitting.
2014 has seen four different winners of the men’s Slams, as it did 2012. But in 2012, the wins were divided evenly between the “Big Four.” This year has let two new winners in: Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open, and Marin Cilic in this US Open. The tennis world will be watching to see if this trend continues into 2015.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): si.robi