Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nishikori upsets Murray to reach U.S. Open semis

Kei Nishikori prepares to return serve during a practice
session at the U.S. Open last week as his coach,
Michael Chang, observes. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Andy Murray was due for a letdown.
   It came today against a determined Kei Nishikori. 
   The second-seeded Murray fought as hard as he could but fell to the sixth-seeded Nishikori 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 in 3 hours, 57 minutes in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.
   Nishikori will play third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner over wild card Juan Martin del Potro in a match that ended at 1:25 a.m. EDT, on Friday. Wawrinka is 3-2 against Nishikori.
   In the women's quarterfinals, top-seeded Serena Williams topped fifth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, and 10th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic dominated unseeded Ana Konjuh, 18, of Croatia 6-2, 6-2.
   Murray, 29, of Great Britain double-faulted at 5-5, 30-30 in the fifth set. After Nishikori hit a sensational forehand stab volley to break, a furious Murray slammed the net cord with his racket. Nishikori, 26, of Japan then held serve for the match on a muggy day at packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest tennis stadium in the world with a capacity of 23,771.
   Nishikori benefited from a chat with his coach, Michael Chang, during a rain delay in the middle of the second set as the new retractable roof was closed. 
   With Murray holding a break point for 2-0 in the fourth set, a point was replayed because of a bizarre recurring gong noise in the stadium. An irritated Murray argued to the chair umpire that she had said play would continue despite the gong. Nishikori proceeded to reel off six straight games and send the match to the fifth set. 
   Murray had been 7-1 against Nishikori, including a 6-1, 6-4 victory last month on a hardcourt in the Olympic semifinals in Rio de Janeiro. Murray went on to win his second straight Olympic gold medal in singles, and Nishikori took the bronze. 
   Only two months ago, Murray also won his second Wimbledon singles crown. 
   Since winning the 2012 U.S. Open for the first of his three Grand Slam singles titles, Murray has failed to reach the semifinals at Flushing Meadows. Nishikori, meanwhile, advanced to his first major semifinal since the 2014 U.S. Open, in which he lost to Marin Cilic in the final.
   Murray won the first of his 39 tour-level singles titles (fourth among active players and 16th in the Open era, which began in 1968) 10 years ago in the now-defunct SAP Open in San Jose. He repeated the following year in his second and last appearance in the low-level ATP World Tour tournament, which ended a 125-year run in 2013.
    Nishikori lost in the second round of the SAP Open in all three of his appearances (2008, 2009 and 2011). Brad Gilbert of San Rafael in the San Francisco Bay Area coached him in 2011.
   Del Potro, a 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) right-hander with a two-handed backhand, has had three operations on his left wrist and one on his right since overpowering Roger Federer to win the 2009 U.S. Open for his only Grand Slam title.
   No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic will meet No. 10 Gael Monfils of France in the other semifinal. Djokovic leads the head-to-head series 12-0.
   In the women's semifinals on Thursday (ESPN), Williams will face Pliskova at 4 p.m. PDT, followed by No. 2 Angelique Kerber against unseeded Caroline Wozniacki, a two-time U.S. Open finalist.
   Williams beat Pliskova 7-5, 6-2 in the second round of the 2014 Bank of the West Classic at Stanford in their only previous meeting. Williams went on to win her third title in the tournament and has not returned since then. Pliskova reached last year's final at Stanford, losing to Kerber.
   Kerber is 7-5 against Wozniacki.
   Keenan Mayo of Roseville in the Sacramento area and Lukas Greif of Evansville, Ind., lost in the second round of boys doubles to No. 4 seeds Miomar Kecmanovic of Serbia and Alexei Popyrin of Australia 6-4, 6-4.

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