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.
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.
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.