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Cilic demolishes Federer to set up historic US Open final

Photo: Streeter Lecka / Getty Images / AFP | Marin Cilic celebrates after defeating Roger Federer during their men's singles semi-final at the 2014 US Open.

Marin Cilic provided the second major shock of the US Open semi-finals Saturday with a sensational win over Roger Federer, hours after Japan’s Kei Nishikori beat world number one Novak Djokovic in one of the biggest upsets in men’s tennis in years.

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Cilic, seeded 14th, saw off the 17-time Grand Slam winner Federer in straight sets 6-3 6-4 6-4, to set up a final few would have expected at the start of this tournament.

Neither he nor 10th seed Nishikori has ever made it to a Grand Slam final before, while Nishikori will become the first Asian man to compete in a final of one of tennis’s showpiece tournaments.

In dumping out two of the biggest names in men’s tennis to get to Monday’s final, the two men have also broken up one of the sport’s most dominant hegemonies – it will be the first time since the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin took on Lleyton Hewitt, that a Grand Slam final has not featured at least one of top players Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal.

"I think that's going to be a sensational day for both of us," said 25-year-old Cilic, the first Croat to reach a grand slam final since his coach Goran Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2001.

"I'm extremely happy to be in the final, the first time in my career. I'm just going to enjoy, be happy and try to win."

The powerful 6-foot-6 (1.98 m) Cilic had lost all five previous meetings with Federer but was in charge from the outset on Saturday, with his booming service game and heavy groundstrokes causing the Swiss problems throughout.

Federer was broken in startling fashion in the fourth game of the match after taking a 40-love lead on serve. After four winners and one of his own errors, Cilic suddenly led 3-1 and used his blistering delivery to serve out the set.

The confident Croat then broke Federer in the first game of the second set and served it out to leave the Swiss on the brink.

Federer, who overcame a two-set deficit to beat France's Gael Monfils in the quarter-finals, broke to lead 2-0 in the third set but Cilic dashed his hopes of another epic comeback by breaking right back.

Two big Cilic winners in the seventh game sealed another break leaving him well on his way to victory.

He completed his dismissal of second seed Federer with three aces and a sizzling backhand winner up the line as he served a love-game to finish a fast one-hour 45-minute demolition of the grand slam king.

"Just an amazing day for me," said Cilic, who smashed 43 winners, including 13 aces.

"To be able to play like this I never dreamed of. I think today was my best performance ever in my career."

Federer said the reason for his defeat was not complicated.

"It's fairly simple," the 33-year-old Swiss said. "I think Marin played great."

"I maybe didn't catch my best day, but I think that was pretty much it in a nutshell."

Japan hails 'unprecedented achievement'

A few hours earlier, Nishikori overcame nine-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic and stifling heat to win 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 in what will be seen as a huge moment for Japanese and Asian tennis.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK hailed it as "an unprecedented achievement for Japan" while the Nikkei Shimbun economic newspaper even updated its online homepage to carry news of the triumph.

Tennis fans in Japan, some of whom had stayed up through the night to watch the match which started at one o'clock in the morning Japan time, were equally estatic.

One Nishikori fan, Minako Takigawa, 35, told AFP: "It's so amazing. I stayed up to watch and still can't sleep I'm still buzzing. I'll be a nervous wreck for the final."

Making Nishikori’s performance all the more impressive is that as recently as a few weeks ago, he was swinging a racket while seated in practice, unable to run because he had a cyst removed from the bottom of his right foot in August.

“I didn’t even know if I should come to New York,” he said, “so I wasn’t expecting nothing, actually.”

Meanwhile, Federer will have to wait for an 18th Grand Slam victory and an end to a drought stretching back to his 2012 Wimbledon triumph. He was philosophical in defeat.

"I think it's exciting for the game to have different faces from time to time," he said. "At the same time, I think people still enjoy seeing the guys they have seen for a while or often in the big matches.

"But I think it's definitely refreshing to some extent. It's big for Croatia and big for Japan...on sporting terms and tennis terms."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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