US Open: Night of the underdogs!
Less fancied Marin Cilic of Croatia and Japan's Kei Nishikori set up shock US Open final date
New York: It's the US Open final that no-one predicted and nobody is more surprised than Japan's Kei Nishikori, the first Asian man to make a Grand Slam final who faces fellow first-timer Marin Cilic tonight.
Marin Cilic celebrates his win over Roger Federer on Saturday
After top seeds Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer were disposed of in the semi-finals, the championship match will be the first not to feature Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal since Australia in 2005.
It will also be the first in New York with two debutants since Pat Rafter defeated Greg Rusedski in 1997. No wonder Nishikori is still pinching himself after his 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 win over Djokovic.
"I am a little bit surprised for me to play the final," said the 24-year-old, whose previous best Grand Slam run had been a quarter-final at the 2012 Australian Open.
His success comes despite him having to sit out the Toronto and Cincinnati Masters on the eve of the US Open to have a cyst removed from his toe, a painful problem which almost forced him to skip New York.
"I just started playing points a few days ago before the tournament. I didn't even know if I should come to New York, so I wasn't expecting anything actually," said the 10th seed.
Cilic's tough past
However, they have split their two past US Open duels, with Nishikori winning in 2010 and Cilic coming out on top two years ago.
Japan's Kei Nishikori celebrates his maiden Grand Slam final at the US Open on Saturday. Pics/AFP
"He's been playing really well, very aggressive, very fast tennis. I know he's been getting stronger," said Nishikori, just one of many players who sharpened his skills at the Bollettieri academy in Florida.
Cilic too has endured a tough journey of his own over the last year, albeit a more controversial one.
The 25-year-old 14th seed missed the 2013 US Open to serve a doping ban handed out after he tested positive for a banned stimulant contained in an over-the-counter supplement. Playing in his 28th Grand Slam event, Cilic, however, wondered if his time in the biggest spotlight would ever come.
"When you are young on the tour you always feel you have enough time," said Cilic after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 rout of Federer. "You have a lot of Grand Slams. You're going to do well. But when the time starts to pass by, you are more anxious if it's going to happen or not."
The number of years it has taken to see a Grand Slam final without Djoko, Federer & Nadal