Days ago, if you had asked tennis fans across the world who the men’s singles U.S. Open finalists would be, the majority would have said Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. In fact, it’s been almost 10 years since a grand slam final didn’t include one of the big three — Fed, the Djoker or Rafael Nadal (who didn’t play in the Open this year due to an injury). But the no. 1 and 2 seeds met their match in Michael Chang’s protégé Kei Nishikori and big-serving Croatian Marin Cilic, respectively. After Nishikori and Cilic’s incredible tournament runs, it’s difficult to say which U.S. Open finalist debutant will win his first major title. This will be the seventh meeting between the two: Nishikori leads the series 5-2, but Cilic won their last U.S. Open meeting in 2012. MyTennisLessons gives you our predictions.
Nishikori, the no. 10 seed, upset no. 5 seed Milos Raonic in the fourth round before triumphing over 2014 Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. He outlasted both players in five sets, and then went on to defeat Djokovic in four, winning three out of five tiebreakers played among them. Cilic had his most impressive wins over hard-hitting Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, grabbing the victory in straight sets, and against Federer of course, which he also claimed in three. It seems as though Nishikori had the tougher draw … will this mean he’s more prepared or more exhausted? Because Raonic and Wawrinka also have a “big man” style of play like Cilic, I’d say Nishikori is ready.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Nishikori survives on his quickness and consistency, while Cilic has an untouchable weapon when he’s hitting his best serves. Against Raonic and Wawrinka, Nishikori hit about half as many winners as his opponents, but only made half the number of unforced errors as they did. Cilic, meanwhile, impressively hit 13 aces against Federer, and had a personal high in this tournament of 23 aces in his fourth round match. If Cilic can hit his first serve and make few unforced errors, he’ll push Nishikori off the court the way he did Federer.
The U.S. Open has been plagued with injuries and illnesses (kudos to anyone who can handle that New York summertime humidity) and you have to wonder if after having played six matches either of these players will succumb to injury. Nishikori withdrew from U.S. Open preparation events and considered not playing in Flushing Meadows after having a cyst removed from his foot. The 24-year old has dealt with multiple injuries throughout his career, however, coach Michael Chang says Nishikori is completely healthy now.
This is an exciting match for both players and nerves are bound to affect their games. Each has proven himself as hardworking and hungry for victory throughout this tournament. I’m going to go ahead and predict Cilic will win this one — shoutout to John for calling that early on — but it will definitely be a battle. Hopefully we’re about to watch five sets of great tennis.