The moment Rafa Nadal officially pulled out of the 2014 US Open, a potential encore presentation of this year’s Wimbledon Final between Novak Djokvic and Roger Federer suddenly became priority number one for the majority of tennis fans across the world.
As of this moment, there are only two men who could keep us from seeing that rematch come to fruition…Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori. While almost everyone would love to have the opportunity of watching another possible classic Djokovic - Federer battle unfold in front of our very eyes, there is a chance we could see a Cilic - Nishikori final on Monday evening at Flushing Meadows.
There is no question Djokovic will be the heavy favourite heading into semi-final number one but Nishikori is arguably in the midst of the most impressive run of matches in his young career. With back-to-back five set victories over No. 5 seed Milos Raonic and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka firmly in his back pocket, one would think the No. 10 seed would be on an all-time high heading into Saturday afternoon.
The twenty-four year old has used a strong return game, his refusal to give up on any ball and some wonderful play at net to reach the final four of major the first-time in his career. While one of the knocks on Japanese fan favourite has always been his health and inability to play through pain, he has shown to be at the complete opposite end of the spectrum during the season’s final Grand Slam event.
The two were scheduled to meet during the semi-finals in Miami earlier this summer but Nishikori was forced to withdraw due to injury, after upsetting Federer in three hard fought sets during the quarterfinals. Outside of that, they have only had two head-to head meetings, 2010 French Open and 2011 Basel, with each player winning one. That said, both of those results were so long ago that they truly have no bearing on what we might see unfold over at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
As far as the Cilic - Federer matchup goes, the Swiss Maestro holds a perfect 5-0 mark against the No. 14 seed. While the thirty-three year old already has a victory over the towering Croatian at the US Open under his belt, a four set third round win back in 2011, the two are coming off what was arguably the finest match played at the 2014 Rogers Cup in Toronto.
The No. 2 seed managed to slip past Cilic in three sets, 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4, but the twenty-five year old matched him shot for shot and pushed Federer to his limit, To be honest, 2014 has been a huge bounce back season for the former top ten player in the world. He entered the year ranked at number thirty-seven but was setting at No. 16 heading into New York and considering he missed last year’s event, that number will be that much higher come next Tuesday.
While Cilic looked impressive in bouncing No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych in straight sets during the quarters, Federer had to fight for his life against Gael Monfils after cruising through the opening rounds without breaking much of a sweat. Like Djokovic, there is no doubt the seventeen-time Grand Slam winner will be the heavy favourite in semi-final number two but don’t be surprised to see him pushed to his limits for the second consecutive match.
Is it likely that either one of Marin Cilic or Kei Nishikori will pull off the upset in Saturday afternoon and advance to 2014 US Open Men’s Final? Probably not but simply dismissing them as nothing more than speed bumps along the way would be major mistake and something tells me neither Novak Djokovic nor Roger Federer will be taking them lightly.