Cilic Crowned US Open Champion, Ends Nishikori’s Historic Run
Marin Cilic rose to the occasion Monday evening at the US Open. In a meeting between two first-time Grand Slam finalists, the 25-year-old Croatian ended Japanese Kei Nishikori’s historic run 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to lift the US Open trophy.
The World No. 16, who had upset five-time champion Roger Federer in straight sets Saturday, became the first Croatian to claim a Grand Slam title since his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, triumphed in 2001 on “People’s Monday” at Wimbledon. He also became the first US Open champion ranked outside the Top 10 since a 17th-ranked Pete Sampras won in 2002.
“This is all hard work in these last several years, and especially this last year,” he said during the trophy ceremony. “My team has brought something special to me, especially Goran. We’re working really hard, but most important from all the things he brought to me was enjoying tennis and always having fun, and I think enjoyed my best tennis over here and played the best ever in my life.”
Cilic celebrated his 300th match win and cemented his return to the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, at No. 9, for the first time since 2010.
With his victory, Cilic also moved into a qualification position for one of the eight singles berths at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals this November. He leapt eight spots, overtaking Nishikori at No. 5 in the Emirates ATP Race To London.
Cilic joined 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro and reigning Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka as just the third player outside the ‘Big Four’ to win in the past 39 majors. It marked the first time since the 2005 Australian Open that Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray did not feature in a Grand Slam final.
“Everything I was working for and dreaming came today,” he said. “For all the other players that are working hard, this is a big sign, a big hope, that if you’re working hard, things are going to pay off.”
Cilic finished the US Open with a flourish, winning 10 straight sets beginning with the fifth set of his fourth-round match against Frenchman Gilles Simon. In addition to his wins over Federer and Nishikori, he dismissed sixth seed Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.
Cilic double-faulted on his first of three championship points, and then clinched victory after one hour and 54 minutes by putting a crosscourt backhand winner into the open court. He fell onto his back, roared as he returned to his feet and proceeded to hug Nishikori at the net. Cilic then made his way up through the lower bowl of Arthur Ashe Stadium, high-fiving fans along the way, before arriving at his players box to hug members of his team.
World No. 11 Nishikori, coached by Michael Chang and Dante Bottini, had made history as the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final, after upsetting No. 1 Djokovic for his third straight Top 10 victory in his first major semi-final.
The 24 year old had logged a total of 16 hours and 26 minutes on the court entering the final, including a pair of marathon wins in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals. Nishikori prevailed against fifth seed Milos Raonic in four hours and 19 minutes on Tuesday at 2:26am, tied for the latest finish in tournament history, and returned Thursday to defeat third seed Stan Wawrinka in four hour and 15 minutes.
“He was playing really well today; I couldn’t play my tennis,” he said. “I want to congratulate Marin, and his team also. It’s a really tough loss, but I’m really happy for my first final. I want to thank my team over there for these two weeks. Sorry I couldn’t get the trophy today, but for sure next time. It was a really fun two weeks here… I hope I can come back next year.”
Nishikori also returned to the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings with his effort this past fortnight, climbing three positions to No. 8.
AT A GLANCE
• No. 14 seed Marin Cilic became the first Croat to capture a Grand Slam title since coach Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2001, defeating No. 10 seed Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Cilic saved 8 of 9 BPs and converted 5 of 11 BPs in the 1h,54m final, which was the shortest US Open title match since 2008 when Roger Federer d. Andy Murray in 1h, 51m. Cilic is the first No. 14 seed to win a major title in the Open Era (since 1968).
• The No. 16-ranked Cilic is the first US Open champion outside the Top 10 since No. 17 Pete Sampras in 2002. He is also the first major winner outside the Top 10 since No. 44 Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros in 2004. Cilic joins ’09 US Open winner Juan Martin del Potro as the tallest Grand Slam champions (6’6”, 1.98m).
• Cilic is the 13th player in the Open Era to win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open and the fourth active player, joining Andy Murray (2012), del Potro (2009) and Lleyton Hewitt (2001). Cilic is the 8th active player to win a major title: Federer (17), Nadal (14), Djokovic (7), Hewitt (2), Murray (2), del Potro (1), and Wawrinka (1).
• This was the first US Open final between two players making their Grand Slam final debut since 1997 when Patrick Rafter defeated Greg Rusedski. That was also the last US Open final without a Top 10 player. Rafter was ranked No. 14 and Rusedski No. 20. The last Grand Slam title match with two first-time finalists was at Roland Garros in 2005 when Rafael Nadal defeated Argentine Mariano Puerta.
• Cilic became the fifth player in the Open Era to win his first Grand Slam title without dropping a set in the last three rounds (QF, SF, F), the first since Federer at Wimbledon in 2003. The others: Richard Krajicek (’96 Wimbledon), Pat Cash (’87 Wimbledon), Guillermo Vilas (’77 Roland Garros).
• Cilic joins Wawrinka, who won the Australian Open, as the other first-time major title winner this season. The last year two (more) players won their maiden Grand Slam title was in 2003: Juan Carlos Ferrero (Roland Garros), Roger Federer (Wimbledon) and Andy Roddick (US Open). This is the second time in three years there are four different major winners.
• Cilic won his last four matches against opponents who held a winning record against the Croat: Gilles Simon in 4R (4-0), Tomas Berdych in QF (5-3), Federer in SF (5-0) and Nishikori in final (5-2).
• Nishikori, who was the first No. 10 seed to reach the US Open final since Sampras in 2001, defeated three Top 10 ranked players en route – No. 6 Raonic (4R), No. 4 Wawrinka (QF) and No. 1 Djokovic (SF).
• Cilic, who captured his career-best third title of the season (12th of his career), also won his 300th career match. He will jump from No. 16 to No. 9 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. The last time he ranked in the Top 10 was at No. 9 on April 12, 2010. He is also trying to qualify for his first Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. He will move from 13th to 5th in the Emirates ATP Race to London.
• Nishikori will jump from No. 11 to a career-high No. 8 in the Emirates ATP Rankings and from 10th to 6th in the Emirates ATP Race to London. He is also trying to qualify for his first Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
• This was the first Grand Slam final since ’05 Australian Open without Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Murray. This was the third time in the past 39 Grand Slam finals there will be a non-Big Four winner (’09 US Open-del Potro, ’14 Aust. Open-Wawrinka, ’14 US Open-Cilic).
• EMIRATES ATP RACE TO LONDON: US Open finalists Cilic and Nishikori are trying to become first-time qualifiers at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London. Four of the top five in the Race are Grand Slam champions this season.