NEW YORK – Japan’s Kei Nishikori booked a US Open quarter-final berth on Tuesday morning with a five-set victory over Milos Raonic that equalled the latest-finishing contests in the tournament’s history. Nishikori, the 10th seed, defeated the fifth-seeded Canadian 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-7 (6/8), 7-5, 6-4 and will face Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka for a place in the semi-finals.
The 2:26 am (0626 GMT) finish equalled the record for the latest at the US Open shared by two prior contests: Philipp Kohlschreiber’s 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over John Isner on September 3, 2012 and Mats Wilander’s 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 win over Swedish compatriot Mikael Pernfors in a second round match in 1993.
Nishikori was grateful to the small crop of hardy fans who hung around for the finish of the four-hour, 19-minute match in Arthur Ashe Stadium, which concluded long after the other courts were quiet and all the food and souvenir vendors had pulled down their shutters.
“Very happy to see a lot of people even at 2:00 in the night,” he said. “I don’t even know how they go back home! I’m very happy to play like that.” Nishikori, the first Japanese man to break into the top 10 in the world rankings, avenged a loss to Raonic in the fourth round at Wimbledon and reached the last eight of a Grand Slam for the second time after his quarter-final run at the 2012 Australian Open.
Hindered by a toe injury in the build-up to the Open, Nishikori needed treatment for an apparent blister on his right foot early in the fourth set. He had been unable to convert eight break chances in the third set against the big-serving Canadian, and let slip a 3-1 lead in the third-set tiebreaker to fall two sets to one down.
But Nishikori gained the only break of the fourth set in the 11th game and held to force a decisive fifth frame in which he gained the upper hand with a break for a 3-2 lead — aided by a Raonic double fault for break point. “Really tough five sets,” Nishikori said. “I had a chance in the tiebreak in that third, especially. It’s hard to lose like that. I was up and made double faults and it was very tough to concentrate again. But I tried to fight every point, and when I had to play well, I did.”
Nishikori, the first Japanese man since Zenzo Shimidzu in 1922 to get to the last-eight in New York, wrapped it up with a backhand volley winner on his first match point.
Quick turnaround for Nishikori
He’ll have little time to rest before a Wednesday meeting with third-seeded Wawrinka, who beat 16th-seeded Spaniard Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-2.
“I never had something like this,” Nishikori said. “I played five hours a few years ago against (Marin) Cilic, and I was dead after that match. But now I’m a little stronger than before, so I should be OK.”
Raonic, who had been hoping to match — or improve upon — his first Grand Slam semi-final run at Wimbledon in the year’s last major hit 86 winners including 35 aces. But he was disappointed he didn’t defend his serve better.
“I was losing my serve way too many times. This whole tournament, actually,” he said. “But I kept fighting, and that’s all I can ask.” Raonic enjoyed the late-night atmosphere with the hard-core fans, but with his tournament over he couldn’t feel that being part of a piece of Open history by matching the latest finish mattered. “Not the slightest bit,” he said.