The 2014 US Open stands as the greatest achievement in Kei Nishikori’s career. Having previously only made it the quarter-final of one grand slam, the 2012 Australian Open, Nishikori was a beaten finalist at Flushing Meadows two years ago.
While the disappointment of losing to Marin Cillic in the tournament finale was immense, the path which Nishikori took to the event showpiece makes his run even more impressive.
Nishikori downed fifth seed Milos Raonic in the fourth round (a marathon match that lasted until 2:30 am) before defeating third seed Stan Wawrinka in the quarter-finals. World number one Novak Djokovic, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, stood between Nishikori and the final.
The 26-year-old had already made history by becoming the first Japanese man in 81 years to reach the semi-finals of a grand slam, but he wasn’t finished there. Nishikori pulled off a shock win over the world number one to well and truly write his name in the record books, becoming the first Asian man to make the final of a grand slam.
The victory over Djokovic was achieved in just four sets, 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, and to date is Nishikori’s biggest result and his only win over Djokovic.
On Tuesday night, he’ll be looking to down the Serbian for a second time.
The pair face off in the Australian Open quarter-finals and Nishikori could not ask for a better moment to face the world number one.
Djokovic was stretched to his limits in a five-set victory over Gilles Simon in the fourth round on Sunday, the top seed making a remarkable 100 unforced errors. Not for some time has Djokovic look vaguely vulnerable, until now.
Speaking after his fourth-round victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nishikori explained that he while he drew confidence from his win over Djokovic 18 months ago, he knows he’ll have to be at his best on Tuesday.
“It gives me a lot of confidence to play against him again, but we played in London and he kind of destroyed me,” explained the seventh seed. “It wasn’t an easy match for me. It’s different conditions, but I hope I can make some changes and try to play better… I’m ready to beat him again.”
But if Nishikori needs a further boost in confidence he only needs to watch a recording of his victory over Djokovic, something he admits he’s done on a number of occasions.
“I do watch it sometimes when I want some confidence… That match I played some of the best tennis in my life, so I’ve watched it a couple of times. I’m sure I’ll try to watch again before next match.”
Should Nishikori manage to play the best tennis of his life at Melbourne Park on Tuesday he may just be able to beat Djokovic again. Nobody gave him a chance at the US Open, and there is no reason why he can’t pull off another surprise.
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