New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Kei Nishikori looked around Arthur Ashe Stadium and noticed the crowd.
With Nishikori playing immediately after Naomi Osaka on Wednesday, the U.S. Open became must-see viewing for Japanese tennis fans.
"It's good to have, you know, home support outside of Japan," he said. "Yeah, it's great news we're both in the semis."
Historic news, actually.
Both players won — Osaka decisively, Nishikori narrowly — to give Japan a men's and women's semifinalist at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time, according to the ATP Tour.
Nishikori rallied to beat Marin Cilic 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 in a match that lasted 4 hours, 8 minutes. Osaka routed Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-1 in just 57 minutes, the third time in her five matches in the tournament that she finished in less than an hour.
"I think she can, you know, win a title now, even (a) Grand Slam. So I feel, you know, big chance for her," Nishikori said.
"Also happy for myself, too, being injured last year."
That was a wrist injury that kept him off the tour from late last season until early this year. He started to regain his form in the spring, was back up to the No. 21 seed for his return to Flushing Meadows, and awaits No. 6 Novak Djokovic on Friday.
Meanwhile, Osaka won a Masters title at Indian Wells and with her strong run in New York, where she will next play 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys, she has picked up more of a following from the Japanese media — though she believes there's a different reason for that.
"I think it's because of Kei," she said, holding her hands apart to show how much bigger Nishikori is in Japan, from where her family moved to New York when she was 3.
So big, in fact, that she was too nervous to talk to him until recently.
Once she did, the 20-year-old Osaka found they had plenty in common. Nishikori, 8 years older, was like a "really big kid" who liked to play video games and have fun like her.
"Overall, he's just really nice and positive and bubbly and stuff," Osaka said.
Only once had Japan had a man and woman reach the quarterfinals of the same major, and Shuzo Matsuoka and Kimiko Date both lost in that round at Wimbledon in 1995.
Nishikori and Osaka are looking to keep right on going. Their victories provided a boost to their baseball-crazed country on an otherwise downer of a day with the news that Los Angeles Angels star Shohei Ohtani had new damage in his right elbow and major surgery was been recommended.
When Nishikori became the first Asian male to reach a Grand Slam singles final four years ago, hundreds of fans packed into a convention hall to cheer him on at a standing-room-only public viewing event in his hometown of Matsue.
Now there might be two such events in Japan this weekend.
"Hopefully we do well this week," Nishikori said.
New York, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Novak Djokovic put aside all of it, from his opponent's unheard-of, middle-of-a-set chance to change out of sweat-soaked clothes and shoes, to consecutive time violations because he let the serve clock expire, to the 16 break points he wasted.
All that mattered, really, was that Djokovic managed to do what Roger Federer could not two nights earlier: beat 55th-ranked John Millman at the U.S. Open.
Djokovic moved a step closer to a third championship at Flushing Meadows and 14th Grand Slam title overall by eliminating Millman 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to get to the tournament's semifinals for an 11th appearance in a row. He sat out last year because of an injured right elbow.
The No. 6-seeded Djokovic, who won Wimbledon in July, had been drawn to face Federer in the quarterfinals. But Millman scuttled that showdown by stunning the 20-time Grand Slam champ in four sets in the fourth round on a hot and humid evening that Federer said sapped his energy and made it hard to breathe.
"I was, alongside many other people, anticipating the match against Federer," Djokovic said.
This night was cooler, as the temperature dipped into the 70s, but the humidity was above 80 percent, so with Millman drenched, he sought permission for a wardrobe change at 2-all in the second set. It was odd enough to see a player be allowed to do that during, instead of after, a set, but even odder for it to happen after an even number of games, rather than at an odd-game changeover.
"I was struggling. He was struggling. We were all sweating. Changing a lot of T-shirts, shorts," said Djokovic, who will face 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori on Friday. "Just trying to find a way to hang in there."
When Millman apologized for leaving the court at that juncture, Djokovic replied, "I'm fine to have a little rest," then sat down on his sideline bench without a shirt on and cooled off.
"I didn't even know the rule," said Millman, whose request to leave briefly was permitted based on something called the "Equipment Out of Adjustment" provision in the International Tennis Federation guidelines, because his sweat was making the court slippery.
Widely considered the best returner in the game, Djokovic kept accumulating chances — and then failing to cash them in. He was able to come through on only four of his 20 break points.
There were other issues for him, too, including in the third set when, ahead by a break, he was called by the chair umpire for allowing the 25-second serve clock, making its Grand Slam debut at this tournament, to run out on back-to-back points. After the first, he double-faulted, and he wound up getting broken there.
But he broke back in the match's next-to-last game, then served out the victory at love.
"I think the guy's beat a brick wall once," Millman said, "because he makes you work hard for every point and it's relentless."
Earlier Wednesday, Nishikori defeated the man he lost to in the final four years ago, Marin Cilic, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4. Add that to No. 20 Naomi Osaka's 6-1, 6-1 win over unseeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, and Osaka and Nishikori give Japan semifinalists in both men's and women's singles at the same Grand Slam tournament for the first time in tennis history.
"It's great to see," said Nishikori, who is into his third major semifinal — all in New York — but is still in search of his initial Slam trophy.
For Osaka, who is 20, this is her first trip past the fourth round at a major. She purported to be "freaking out inside," even if it certainly never showed.
She'll face No. 14 Madison Keys of the U.S. on Thursday night. Serena Williams plays No. 19 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia in the other semifinal.
Keys was one of four American women in the final four a year ago, when she was the runner-up to Sloane Stephens.
She's the only member of that quartet who made it back.
Still in search of her first Grand Slam title, the Keys reached her third semifinal in the past five majors by using her big-strike game built on serves and forehands to overpower No. 30 Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-4, 6-3.
Keys won all 10 of her service games, saving the only two break points she faced. One came in the last game as she served for the victory, but she erased it with a forehand winner, part of a 22-10 edge in that category.
Keys, who is 23, thinks she is more equipped than ever to deal with important moments on important stages.
"I've gotten a lot better managing my emotions once it gets to this part and knowing that everything is going to be probably more amped up," she said. "And not shying away from those, but just really being honest about it and talking about it."
New York, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Serena Williams began her U.S. Open quarterfinal tentatively. Her shots lacked their usual sting, her attitude its usual conviction.
She was facing the last player she lost to at Flushing Meadows. She kept looking up her coach, as if seeking solutions. After just 20 minutes Tuesday night, Williams was in danger of trailing by two service breaks. Not much later, the outcome was no longer in doubt, because the 23-time Grand Slam champion suddenly was in complete control.
Williams put aside some early shakiness and an early deficit, turning things around with an eight-game run en route to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over No. 8 seed Karolina Pliskova for a spot in the semifinals. It was Williams' first win over a top-10 player this season.
"I was playing really not a good game," said Williams, who was a point from trailing 4-1 and did fall behind 4-2 while making 22 of her 30 unforced errors in the first set. "I was thinking, 'You know, I can play better.' So that was the good news."
Pliskova offered this guess about what was happening to Williams: "Maybe she was a little bit nervous."
Maybe. But that didn't last long.
Pliskova is a big server and hitter in her own right, someone who briefly spent time at No. 1 in the WTA rankings and was the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2016, when she beat Williams in the semifinals. The 36-year-old American did not compete in New York a year ago, because she gave birth to her daughter during the tournament.
Go back to 2015, and that was another semifinal departure for Williams, whose bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam was shockingly ended by Roberta Vinci.
"Well, I want to just be able to get past the semis here. It's been a few, couple, rough semis for me," Williams said. "But regardless, this has been a great road."
This time, Williams' semifinal opponent will be No. 19 seed Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who surprisingly beat defending champion Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-3 earlier Tuesday.
Stephens, who said she had been dealing with a sinus infection, rued all of her wasted opportunities, most notably the seven break points she failed to convert in the first set. She sure didn't attempt to hide her frustration, either, repeatedly gesturing toward or speaking in the direction of her coach, Kamau Murray, up in the stands.
When someone urged her to raise her level in the second set, Stephens replied, "I'm trying!"
"When you don't play big points well, the match can get away from you," Stephens said. "I think that's what happened today. I didn't convert."
Sevastova, who retired in 2013 because of injuries and returned nearly two years later, advanced to her first Slam semifinal.
"Still long way to go, I think," she said.
Especially considering that the next step will come against Williams, who's heading into her 36th semi at a major, 12th at Flushing Meadows.
Williams already proved at Wimbledon that she is capable of the sort of dominant performances she has shown over the years, making all the way to the final at the All England Club before losing. She'll hope to do one better now and claim a seventh U.S. Open title.
Her sluggish start against Pliskova came in the same 90-degree heat and 50-percent humidity that hampered John Isner in his quarterfinal loss to Juan Martin del Potro on Tuesday afternoon, and Roger Federer in his fourth-round exit against John Millman a night earlier and prompted the tournament to suspend play in junior matches for a few hours.
With her older sister, Venus — the woman she beat in the third round — in her guest box, Williams looked tight. Her timing was off. She put a backhand into the net to get broken to 2-1 at the outset. Then, down 3-1, she faced three break points; if Pliskova won any, she would have led 4-1. But Pliskova did not manage to put any of Williams' serves in play on those key points.
"Too strong," Pliskova said.
Soon after that, Williams went from trailing 4-2 to not only taking the first set but also leading 4-0 in the second.
By the end, Williams compiled a 13-3 edge in aces, and 35-12 in total winners.
"She's playing with the same power. She can still serve well. I don't think there's any change with her game," Pliskova said. "She's just going for her shots."
West Conshohocken, Sep 5 (AP/UNB) — Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, golf's most prominent players for more than two decades, never realized the Ryder Cup would mean so much.
For Woods, it's the culmination of a comeback that began in January after a fourth surgery on his lower back. For Mickelson, more than setting a record by playing his 12th Ryder Cup, the 48-year-old gets what he believes will be his last chance to capture that gold trophy away from home.
U.S. captain Jim Furyk added them to his team Monday evening as wild-card selections, along with Bryson DeChambeau.
Woods agreed to be a vice captain in late February, and he set a goal to be in Paris on Sept. 28-30 as a player.
"It's incredible, it really is, to look back at the start of the year and now to have accomplished a goal like that," Woods said. "To be a part of this team, and now to be a player is just ... beyond special."
Mickelson had qualified for every team since 1995, a streak that ended this year when he finished No. 10 in the standings. His 12th appearance breaks the Ryder Cup record held by Nick Faldo.
Mickelson has only been on three winning teams — at Brookline in 1999, Valhalla in 2008 and two years ago at Hazeltine. His last time overseas was at Gleneagles, where he infamously closed out a losing press conference by questioning captain Tom Watson and the direction the PGA of America was taking the U.S. team.
That led to sweeping changes in the U.S. structure, mainly by giving players a stronger voice.
"This is mostly likely my last chance to go over to Europe and to be a part of a winning U.S. team in Europe. We haven't done that in 25 years," Mickelson said. "I set out this year on really a strong commitment and journey to get on the team. I got off to a great start this year. It's been a really good year, and although I fell just shy of making it on points, it feels great to be a part of this team and serve this team in any way I can."
Furyk still has one more captain's pick he will announce on Monday after the BMW Championship, and it might not be as easy as this one.
"Not that it was an easy decision," Furyk said with a smile. "But it could have been a lot more difficult."
Woods and Mickelson were logical choices. Woods briefly had the lead Sunday in the British Open until he tied for sixth, and he shot a career-best final round of 64 to finish second in the PGA Championship. Mickelson won another World Golf Championship in March, though he hasn't seriously contended since then.
DeChambeau narrowly missed out on one of the eight automatic spots by missing the cut at the PGA Championship, and the 24-year-old Californian knew he had to show Furyk some form in the three weeks before the picks were announced.
He won the first FedEx Cup playoff event by four shots. He won the next FedEx Cup playoff event by two shots.
"I wanted to be a part of this experience so badly that I worked twice as hard," DeChambeau said. "And it showed, and it paid off."
Tony Finau is believed to be the leading candidate for 12th and final spot. Furyk invited him as part of a small group that played Le Golf National on the weekend before the British Open. Finau tied a PGA Championship record with 10 birdies in the second round while playing with Furyk.
During the FedEx Cup playoffs, he was runner-up at one event and tied for fourth at the other.
European captain Thomas Bjorn announces his wild-card selections on Wednesday, with Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey among the likely picks. Still to be determined was whether former Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs, gets a nod.
The eight Americans who qualified on their own were Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed. Throw in Woods and Mickelson, and that gives the U.S. team a lineup that has combined for 31 majors.
That doesn't mean as much in foursomes and fourballs, on a European course before the singing and chanting of Europeans fans.
"We're heading over into foreign soil," Furyk said. "It's going to be an interesting crowd. They are boisterous, I have a lot of respect for them and we are looking for players that we thought would handle that situation well and would thrive, love the challenge. And naming these three players, that's what we've done."
Woods will no longer be a vice captain, though Furyk said he would continue to lean on his advice. Woods was an assistant at Hazeltine and at the Presidents Cup last fall at Liberty National in a U.S. route.
Furyk picked former world No. 1 David Duval to replace Woods. Furyk also said Zach Johnson and Matt Kuchar would fill out his lineup of vice captains, joining Davis Love III and Steve Stricker.
New York, Sep 4 (AP/UNB) — Roger Federer served poorly. Closed poorly, too. And now he's gone, beaten at the U.S. Open by an opponent ranked outside the top 50 for the first time in his career.
Looking slow and tired on a sweltering night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the No. 2-seeded Federer double-faulted 10 times, failed to convert a trio of set points and lost 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) in the fourth round to John Millman in a match that began Monday and concluded at nearly 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
It's only the second time in Federer's past 14 appearances at the U.S. Open that he's lost before the quarterfinals. He is, after all, a five-time champion at the tournament, part of his men's-record haul of 20 Grand Slam titles.
"I have so much respect for Roger and everything he's done for the game. He's been a hero of mine, and today he was definitely not at his best," Millman said, "but, you know, I'll take it."
So much for that highly anticipated matchup between Federer and 13-time major champion Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. Instead, it'll be the 55th-ranked Millman, an Australian who had never made it past the third round at a Slam until last week, taking on No. 6 seed Djokovic.
Millman was adamant he would not be intimidated by Federer, and perhaps was helped by having spent time practicing together a few months ago ahead of the grass-court portion of this season.
Still, this was a stunner. Not simply because Federer lost — he entered the day 28-0 at the U.S. Open, and 127-1 in all Grand Slam matches, against foes below No. 50 in the ATP rankings — but how he lost. Start with this: Federer held two set points while serving for the second at 5-4, 40-15 and did not pull through. Millman knew that was the turning point.
"I felt like a bit of a deer in headlights to begin with, to be honest with you. The feet weren't moving. Roger had me on a string. He was manipulating me around the court," Millman said. "But I got out of a tough second set and really found my feet and started to be a little bit more aggressive."
Then Federer had a set point in the third at 6-5 in the tiebreaker, but again was stymied.
In the fourth set, he went up a break at 4-2, yelling "Come on!" and getting all of those rowdy spectators in their "RF" gear on their feet, prompting the chair umpire to repeatedly plead for silence. But Federer uncharacteristically got broken right back with a sloppy game, most egregiously when he slapped what should have been an easy putaway into the net.
And then there was his serve.
In the final tiebreaker, he double-faulted twice in a row.
The first obvious signs of trouble for Federer came far earlier, in the second game of the second set. He started that 15-minute struggle by missing 18 of his initial 20 first serves. While he eventually held there, he needed to save seven break points along the way. It was clear the 37-year-old Federer was not at his best.
Maybe the 75 percent humidity played a role. Millman's big rips on groundstrokes didn't help matters. As the unforced errors mounted — Federer would finish with 77, nearly three times as many as Millman's 28 — Federer's wife, Mirka, couldn't bear to look, placing her forehead on her hands in the guest box in the stands.
Federer hung his head at a changeover, a little black fan pointed right at his face, but nothing seemed to make him feel like himself.
Hours before, Djokovic left the court for a medical timeout — the second time during the tournament he's sought help from a doctor because of harsh weather — during what would become an otherwise straightforward 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over 68th-ranked Joao Sousa of Portugal.
"I'm not 21 anymore. That was 10 years ago. I still don't feel old. But at the same time, there is a little biological clock that is not really working in your favor," Djokovic told the crowd afterward. "Sometimes, you just have to survive."
He reached the quarterfinals for an 11th consecutive appearance in New York as he bids for a third U.S. Open championship and 14th Grand Slam trophy.
The other quarterfinal on the bottom half of the draw will be a rematch of the 2014 U.S. Open final: No. 7 Marin Cilic against No. 21 Kei Nishikori.
Cilic, who beat Nishikori four years ago for his only major title, was a 7-6 (6), 6-2, 6-4 winner against No. 10 David Goffin, while Nishikori advanced by defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.