Kei Nishikori, Naomi Osaka make history in reaching U.S. open semifinals

Naomi Osaka, of Japan, reacts after defeating Lesia Tsurenko, of Ukraine, during the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Naomi Osaka made history this morning in her 6-1, 6-1 win over Lesia Tsurenko.

It took just over an hour for the 20-year-old to become the first Japanese woman since Kimiko Date-Krumm (’96) to reach the semifinals of the U.S. Open.

Her countryman, Kei Nishikori, followed in her footsteps later, after a much more challenging match. Nishikori, the 2014 runner-up, took down 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic in five sets to reach his third major semifinal.

It’ll be the first time in the Open era that a Japanese man and woman are both in the semifinals of a grand slam.

But it almost didn’t happen.

Almost 12 hours after Rafael Nadal finished his epic quarterfinal against Dominic Thiem, Nishikori stepped onto the court with Cilic, with another five-set match coming to Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Cilic won the first set 6-2 and had the early lead in the second before Nishikori broke twice to level the match at one set a piece. With unforced errors piling up for Cilic, Nishikori took the two sets to one lead after winning the third-set tiebreak.

The decisive break of serve went Cilic’s way in the fourth to set up a winner-take-all fifth set.

Fifth-set drama

Nishikori was on the brink of closing out the fifth set – up 4-1 with another break point.

But Cilic, who had clawed back from a two-set hole against Australian Alex De Minaur, saved break point and held. The Croatian would break right back to level the match at 4-4.

Nishikori held his nerve and would retake the lead at 5-4. A forehand winner would seal the match for Nishikori six points later.

What’s next

Osaka will be playing for a spot in her first grand slam final against the winner of the Madison Keys-Carla Suarez Navarro match. Keys made her maiden slam final last year at the U.S. Open before losing to Sloane Stephens. Stephens bowed out of the tournament with a loss yesterday to No. 28 Anastasija Sevastova. 

Nishikori will play the winner of the Novak Djokovic-John Millman match. Millman dispatched Roger Federer in four sets Monday. Djokovic has two U.S. Open titles, the last of them coming in 2015. He was the runner-up in 2016 before withdrawing last year with an elbow injury.