NEW YORK – It is among the most unexpected championship matchups in Grand Slam tennis history: Kei Nishikori against Marin Cilic in the U.S. Open final.
Neither is currently ranked in the top 10.
Neither has previously played in a major final, let alone won one.
“If somebody told you ‘a Nishikori-Cilic final at the U.S. Open,’ three weeks ago, you would look at them like they don’t know what they’re talking about,” said 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, Cilic’s coach. “But it’s happening on Monday.”
Yes, it is, putting an end to a 91/2-year, 38-Slam stretch in which at least one – and 17 times, two – Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal participated in the title match, winning 34 of them.
Cilic eliminated Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the semifinals. Nishikori, a star in his native Japan but based since age 14 in Florida, got past Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to become the first man from Asia to get to a major singles final. (Nadal, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, did not try to defend his title because of a right wrist injury.)
“Well,” Cilic summed up, “it’s a bit of a change-up.”
And just think about where these two guys were a year ago at this time.
Cilic was at home in Croatia, barred from entering the U.S. Open because of a doping suspension he says he didn’t deserve.
Nishikori, meanwhile, left Flushing Meadows 12 months ago with a straight-set, first-round loss to a qualifier ranked 179th.
Nishikori is seeded 10th, but ranked 11th. Cilic is seeded 14th, but ranked 16th.
It’s the first time since the 2002 French Open that two men outside the top 10 met in a Grand Slam final. That hasn’t happened in New York since 1997.
“It’s going to be a tricky final. First final for both of the guys, they’re going to both be nervous,” Ivanisevic said. “But whoever wins is going to be on top of the world. You know, Mount Everest is Monday.”
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