US Open: Kei Nishikori outlasts Wawrinka, makes first career semis

By Evan Hilbert |

Kei Nishikori endured another marathon Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Youth was served on Wednesday night at the US Open. Two days after playing the longest match of the tournament on Monday night -- well, really Tuesday morning -- No. 10 Kei Nishikori, 24, outlasted Australian Open champion and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka in another five-set, four-hour marathon to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal ever.

In fact, Nishikori's five-set 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 win over Wawrinka makes him the first Japanese man since 1918 to make the semifinals of the US Open.

Nishikori's fourth round match against Milos Raonic ended at 2:26 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning, tying it for the latest ending ever to a US Open match. Of the five matches ever to end after 2:00 a.m. ET at the Open, all four previous winners went on to lose their next match. Nishikori's sensational footwork, relentless returns, obvious endurance and clever volleys halted that pattern.

Wawrinka dominated the first set, making quick work of the No. 10 seed still rusty from his previous late night.

"I started a little bit tight," Nishikori said in his postgame interview. "My body was OK. The game started going on and I got more and more confidence."

In the second, Nishikori showed an aggressive streak that completely altered the pace and tenor of the ensuing sets. He began cutting towards the net, sacrificing Wawrinka's power for inferior angles. Overall, he won 29-of-37 net points, showing a willingness to slice or slam anything coming off Wawrinka's racket. Having tied the former major winner, perhaps Nishikori got cocky in the third.

He led 5-3 in the middle set, agonizingly close to staking a huge advantage when he needlessly showed his youth. The rising Japanese star took a return shot beyond the baseline through his legs and smacked it directly into the net. His coach, Michael Chang, could only look down in disbelief at his player's hubris. Of course Wawrinka broke Nishikori, then held serve, before the third set ultimately reached a tiebreaker. Nishikori unwound his youthful mistake and held on to win the tiebreak 9-7.

Wawrinka took the grueling fourth set in 61 minutes, only the second-longest set of the match, before the seemingly inevitable fifth. Wawrinka kept waiting and waiting for Nishikori's legs to give out, spent from his prior match, but they wouldn't. The upstart hit leaping winners, soft slices and stunningly precise forehand jabs and Wawrinka eventually caved. He double faulted in the final game to give Nishikori a commanding 40-15 lead and then hit match point into the net. The 24-year-old could only smile at the history he had just made.

His reward for 10 sets and more than eight hours of tennis in less than 48 hours? The victor from Wednesday night's yet-to-be-played Djokovic-Murray match.

Ekaterina makarova
Ekaterina Makarova beat Victoria Azarenka on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

Ekaterina Makarova ended No. 16 seed Victoria Azarenka's bid for a third consecutive US Open final appearance, winning 6-4, 6-2, on Wednesday at Flushing Meadows.

"Finally I am in the semifinals," Makarova said afterward. "I had five chances and finally I'm here. It's a great feeling."

The match was competitive throughout, but Azarenka, who has been hampered by a series of lower leg injuries this year, seemed to wear down as the day wore on. Additionally, Azarenka's PR representative tweeted after the match that she wasn't in top form because she had a bout with food poisoning Tuesday.

Whatever the case, an early break for Azarenka in the first set seemed to turn the tide of match is her favor, however, as she strung together a series of points to jump ahead 3-2. But Makarova battled back and broke Azarenka, held serve, and broke her again to take the first set.

Makarova, who is seeded 17th, seemed poised to take complete control of the second set right out of hand, but Azarenka fought off four break points to hold serve. Azarenka's next service opportunity was almost identical -- down 15-40, she denied Makarova's break opportunity and again held serve.

Third time was a charm for Makarova, though she got some help from a wayward Azarenka backhand on game point. The normally composed Azarenka slammed her racket on the court following the shot. From there, Makarova held serve and closed out Azarenka with another break.

Makarova moves on to Friday's semifinals, where she will face the winner of Wednesday night's match between top seed Serena Williams and Flavia Pennetta. Should Williams win, it will be the second time the two have faced each other this week, as Makarova and Elena Vesnina defeated the Williams sisters in the women's doubles quarterfinals.

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