Marin Cilic cemented his name in the history books on Monday, ending Japan’s Kei Nishikori’s historic run in straight sets to claim the 2014 US Open men’s singles title.
The 14th seed became the first Croatian to claim a Grand Slam title since his coach Goran Ivansevic, who triumphed in 2001 at Wimbledon. He blasted 17 aces and only lost 9 points on his first serve on his track to a 6-3 6-3 6-3 victory in one hour and 54 minutes.
The top Croat did not drop a set in his final three matches in Flushing Meadows, having also beaten sixth seed Tomas Berdych and five-time former champion Roger Federer in straight sets.
He also became the first US Open champion ranked outside the Top 10 since a 17th-ranked Pete Sampras won in 2002.
Nishikori had made history on Saturday, when he became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final after upsetting world number one Novak Djokovic in his first major semi-final.
The win against the top seed and 2011 champion was his third straight over a player ranked in the Top 10; resulting to a first Grand Slam final without any of the ‘Big Four’- the Serb, Rafael Nadal, Roger Fededer and Andy Murray since the 2005 Australian Open.
But having logged a total of 16 hours and 26 minutes on the court to advance into an all-first-timers’ final, including a pair of marathon wins in the Round of 16 and quarter-finals, Cilic- though progressed in better timing- settled much easier into his rhythm than his opponent seeded 4 places ahead in this year’s championship.
After surviving an early break point, the No. 16 ranked Cilic coasted to a 1-set lead after 33 minutes, hitting 11 winners and limiting Nishikori, who struggled to shake off his nerves, to just two.
Cilic continued from where he left off in the second set. The Japanese sent a forehand long to gift him a 0/40 lead in the third game. Despite fighting back to deuce, it was Cilic who earned a fourth break point as he cracked a forehand winner off a short ball from Nishikori and converted, as the No. 11 ranked player dumped a backhand into the net.
At 15/40 down in the fourth game, Cilic held Nishikori off for a 3-1 lead and after a love service game, broke the latter again in the seventh game.
Cilic saved two break points to level at deuce while serving for the set, but judged the ball’s flight poorly and had Nishikori finally break his serve to convert on the third break point to stay in the set.
After a total of 12 unforced error in the second set, the Japanese realised he had made lesser case for momentum. A smash into the net gave Cilic a set point and he nailed a forehand winner into the corner to claim the set in 37 minutes.
Fatigue crept in for Nishikori in the third having endured a total of 14 sets in his past three matches. It made for Cilic’s gain, the Croatian outlasting Nishikori in a lengthy baseline exchange on break point in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead.
Nishikori faltered on his second serve on two of his three break point chances in the seventh game, allowing Cilic to clinch it with a thunderous backhand winner up the line and move within a game of his first Grand Slam title.
Nishikori held to offer Cilic the chance to claim it on his own serve, and he did not falter. A hold to 15, clinched with a backhand crosscourt winner did it for the 25-year-old, who joined 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro and reigning Australian champion Stanislas Wawrinka as just the third surprise package of a Grand Slam in the past 39 championships.
With his victory, Cilic jumped back to the Top 10 since 2010, marching his career high of 9th that year. He also leapt eight spots, overtaking Nishikori at No. 5 in the race for one of 8 singles positions at the ATP World Tour Finals in London this November.