Get to know surprise U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori stunned No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 on Saturday to become the first man from Asia to advance to the U.S. Open final. Here are 10 things to know about the 24-year-old Nishikori:
• Nishikori wasn't even a lock to play the U.S. Open a month ago. Nishikori's status was uncertain after he withdrew from lead-up tournaments in Montreal and Cincinnati because of a toe injury. But now Nishikori, who lost to a qualifier in the first round last year, has defeated three consecutive top-10 opponents -- No. 6 Milos Raonic, No. 3 Stan Wawrinka and the top-ranked Djokovic -- for the first time in his career. Nishikori improved to 7-4 against top-10 opponents this year; he had been 9-23 before 2014.
• Nishikori is the first No. 10 seed to make the U.S. Open final since ... Pete Sampras in 2001. Sampras lost to Lleyton Hewitt.
• Nishikori is 3-1 this year against his potential opponents in the final. Nishikori has split two matches with Roger Federer, winning on a hard court at the Sony Open and losing on grass at the Gerry Weber Open, and gone 2-0 against Marin Cilic.
• Nishikori is one of four players to make his first Grand Slam seminal this year. But he's the only one from the group -- which includes Raonic (Wimbledon), Grigor Dimitrov (Wimbledon) and Ernests Gulbis (French Open) to reach the final.
• Nishikori added Michael Chang to his coaching team last December. Nishikori brought in the former French Open champion and world No. 2 while looking for a spark to help him become the first Japanese man to crack the top 10. He reached a career-high No. 9 in May and entered the U.S. Open ranked 11th. Nishikori is set to rise to No. 8 next week.
• Nishikori ranks ninth among the highest-paid tennis players, according to Forbes. From June 2013-June 2014, the magazine put the Japan No. 1's earnings at $11 million, including $9 million in endorsements from a sponsorship mix that includes Uniqlo, Wilson and Tag Heuer.
• Nishikori won his first ATP title at 18. As a qualifier ranked No. 244, Nishikori upset No. 12 and top-seeded James Blake 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the final of the 2008 International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Fla. He became the youngest tour winner in a decade. Nishikori has added four more titles since then, including two this year (Barcelona and Memphis).
• Nishikori is 10-2 in his career in five-set matches. That record includes back-to-back five-set victories against Raonic and Wawrinka in this tournament.
• Nishikori has had trouble staying healthy. His injury woes started with a right-elbow issue that required surgery and sidelined him for all but three months in 2009 and most of the first three months of 2010. He's also struggled with back, knee, abdominal and toe injuries. In May, Nishikori led Nadal by a set and a break in the Madrid Open final before eventually retiring with back pain.
• Nishikori left Japan for Hall of Famer Nick Bollettieri's academy in Florida at age 14. Here's Bollettieri's current scouting report, via The Indepedent:
“Kei has hands and feet that are as good as anybody who has ever played the game of tennis,” Bollettieri said. “At 5ft 10in he’s one of the smallest guys on the tour, but he has weapons. He’s not afraid to come to the net. He’s added about eight to nine miles per hour on his serve, though I’d like to see him add even more.
“He’s a shot-maker and the crowds love him. He has a big forehand and a big backhand. Now he’s starting to come to the net a lot more. I think he has to do that. He’s very good at reading where the ball is going to come and he has a very sound volley. He’s only just turned 24, so he still has time to develop.”