The men's semifinals for the 2014 U.S. Open are all set, with play on Friday to determine which two stars will be headed to the final.
In one half, you've got Novak Djokovic taking on Kei Nishikori. On the other side, Roger Federer plays Marin Cilic.
Djokovic and Federer are no strangers to Grand Slam semifinals, and many have been predicting that they'd meet in the final. Nishikori and Cilic, on the other hand, are pleasant surprises. It's always nice watching new faces upset the established order every once in a while.
|Matchup||Time (ET)||Watch||Live Stream|
|No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 10 Kei Nishikori||12:30 p.m.||CBS||U.S. Open Live|
|No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 14 Marin Cilic||TBD||CBS||U.S. Open Live|
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 10 Kei Nishikori
The prophecy foretold that Djokovic will appear in his fifth straight U.S. Open final. Making it this far in the tournament was his minimum expectation.
Nishikori, on the other hand, is new to this whole semifinal thing. Only once before had he appeared in a Grand Slam quarterfinal, so playing in the semifinal of a major tournament is an experience completely foreign to the 24-year-old.
Bleacher Report's Lindsay Gibbs wrote that Nishikori's failure to break through hasn't been because of a lack of talent. At almost every opportunity, injuries have conspired to prevent his ascension:
As other players of his generation such as Grigor Dimitrov and (Milos) Raonic rose up the rankings rather steadily over the past few years, for Nishikori it's been one step forward, two steps back as his body continuously broke down whenever prosperity came knocking.
But Nishikori has kept coming back, and this year he has been playing the best tennis of his career.
Aside from the fact that he's playing the best tennis player in the world, what scares you about Nishikori's chances is that he's played marathon five-setters in back-to-back rounds. That he still had enough to take down Stan Wawrinka in the quarters is something to behold:
Kei Nishikori outlasts Wawrinka 6-4 in fifth, incredible recovery from his long battle with Raonic. He's into his first Slam semi. #usopen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 3, 2014
Now he's gonna have to do that against Djokovic, who was tested early against Murray but met little resistance in the third and fourth sets. Not to mention Djokovic is one of the fittest players on the ATP Tour.
Nishikori should start the semifinal strong, but the longer the match goes, the more you favor Djokovic. He's the better, fresher player. As long as the 2011 U.S. Open champion doesn't shoot himself in the foot by being too aggressive, he should be through to the final.
No. 2 Roger Federer vs. No. 14 Marin Cilic
This, courtesy of Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim, perfectly summed up Thursday night's quarterfinal between Federer and Gael Monfils:
Friend writes : "That's why Federer is Federer..... and Monfils is Monfils." Discuss ....— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) September 5, 2014
Monfils had Federer dead to rights in the fourth set. He let Federer off the hook and then paid the price. The margin for error is minute when you're playing one of the greatest stars in tennis history.
Federer and Cilic are no strangers to one another, having played on five occasions. Although the Swiss has won every time, their meeting in Toronto earlier in the summer leads you to believe the gap may be closing.
Federer won in three sets, 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 6-4. Sportsnet's Arash Madani called it one of the best matches on hard court during the U.S. Open buildup:
Federer-Cilic in Toronto was the best hardcourt summer match, hands down, before the Open. They meet again in the semi's in NY. Perfect.— Arash Madani (@ArashMadani) September 5, 2014
For Cilic, it's quite the turnaround in the space of a year. At the 2013 U.S. Open, he was ineligible to play because he was serving a doping ban. Now, he's in his first semifinal at the tournament.
Cilic talked how he's changed since his suspension, per The Associated Press, via USA Today:
I mean, it was a difficult period. I didn't know when I'm going to start back. But (it) was also (a) good period for me. I matured a bit more and I was working, day after day. I wasn't relaxing and doing nothing. So I think that helped me to improve physically. Also, it helped me to have enough time to put some new parts in my game, which are helping me to play this good now.
As well as the Croat is playing, it's hard to look past Federer in this match. He flirted with disaster against Monfils, but that may have been the one time the 33-year-old's pushed to the brink in this tournament, at least until the final.
Maybe with the Federer of 2013, you'd worry about his quarterfinal performance. This year, it looks like an outlier in what's been an otherwise sublime summer for the 17-time Grand Slam champion.