NEW YORK, Sept 4, (Agencies): Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray to set up a US Open semi-final clash against Kei Nishikori who became Japan’s first semi-finalist in almost a century on Wednesday. World number one Djokovic, the 2011 champion, reached his eighth consecutive US Open semi-final by downing Murray 7-6 (7/1), 6-7 (1/7), 6-2, 6-4 for his 13th win in 21 meetings against his childhood rival who had taken the 2012 title. Nishikori, the 10th seed, had earlier needed more than four hours to defeat third seed Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9/7), 6-7 (5/7), 6-4 to become the first Japanese man in the semi-finals in 96 years.
Wimbledon champion Djokovic and Murray had spent a record-equalling 4 hours 54 minutes contesting the 2012 final and their quarter-final clash threatened to surpass that mark when they needed over two hours to get through the first two sets of a tie that started on Wednesday and finished Thursday. By the end, however, Murray was struggling with what appeared to be a recurrence of his long-standing back problem, a legacy of having spent three and a half hours more on court than Djokovic in getting to this stage.
But victory was also a testament to the top seed’s intimidating defensive skills as he saved 12 of 16 break points in the 3-hour 32-minute encounter which saw Murray commit 65 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 48. Murray, still without a title since his historic 2013 Wimbledon triumph, said that he struggled as the match wore on. Djokovic and Nishikori are 1-1 in career meetings but their last clash was three years ago.
Nishikori, 24, triumphed over Australian Open champion Wawrinka in 4 hours 15 minutes, his second marathon clash after needing 4 hours 19 minutes to get past Milos Raonic in the previous round. Ichiya Kumagae was the last Japanese man to reach the semi-finals of the US Championships in 1918. Nishikori, whose match against Raonic ended at a record-equalling 2:26am on Tuesday, was stunned by his win over the third seeded Wawrinka, who had won the pair’s two other meetings without dropping a set.
“I was tight at the start but my body was OK. I felt more confident after the first set,” said the 24-year-old, who will be playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final having made the quarter-finals in Australia in 2012. “It feels amazing. I am playing well and I hope to play at 100 percent in the semi-finals.” Wawrinka praised the stamina of Nishikori who has now spent more than 13.5 hours on court at the tournament.
“From outside he looks really dead, but we know on the court he can play,” he said. In women’s match, two-times defending champion Serena Williams, in her black and white leopard dress, started quietly before roaring past 11th seed Flavia Pennetta 6-3 6-2 to reach the semi-finals of the U.S. Open on Wednesday. The world number one lost her first two service games to Pennetta to fall behind 3-0 before snapping to attention and rattling off the next six games to claim the first set.
“She was playing really well and she was playing very aggressive,” said Williams. “So I had to just step up my level of game as well.” Determined to make up for a disappointing grand slam season in which she failed to reach the quarter-finals in any of the three previous majors, Williams broke her fellow 32-year-old in the fifth and seventh games to advance in 63 minutes.
The top seed will meet Russian 17th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who reached her first grand slam semi-final with a 6-4 6-2 victory over 16th seed Victoria Azarenka, runner-up to Williams in the last two Opens. Pennetta was disappointed to have lost, but not disappointed with the quality of her tennis against the 17-times grand slam singles winner.
“She was really good today. I think we play really good tennis tonight. I mean, really strong tennis in everything,” said the Italian. “Today, I push so much and she come in with the best tennis, I think.” The match was played at a high level, but once Williams got rolling she was hard to stop, blasting 17 winners in the second set for 31 in total. Pennetta, who served six aces, one less than Williams, committed a meagre 16 errors but could not slow down the five-times champion, who became the first player aged 32 or older to reach the U.S. semi-finals since Martina Navratilova in 1991.
A spate of upsets on the women’s side have left Williams as the only one of the top nine seeds still playing, but the top seed said Makarova, China’s unseeded Peng Shuai and 10th seed Caroline Wozniacki were well deserving semi-finalists. “Honestly I’ve had a tough year in the majors. You can never underestimate anyone,” she said. “Congratulations to everyone who made it to the semis.
“Especially for me this year, you never know what can happen. I take everything very seriously as it comes.” Another Open title would push Williams’s career total to 18, tying her for fourth place on the all-time grand slam list with Chris Evert and Navratilova. Williams was asked what the number 18 means to her. “It means a lot. It means legal to do some things,” she said, drawing some chuckles from reporters. “It also means legendary. Legal and legendary. “I’m definitely legal. Legendary? I don’t know. I’m just Serena.”