Japan's Kei Nishikori won't leave New York as the first Asian man with a Grand Slam title, but his US Open near-miss has shown him what he's capable of.
Nishikori fell 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to Marin Cilic in Monday's title match, a battle of first-time Grand Slam finalists. (Full match report)
Chants of "Kei, Kei, Kei" rang out in Arthur Ashe Stadium as fans tried to lift him, but after dispatching three of the top five seeds in punishing encounters he was no match for Cilic's power and precision. (Also read: Cilic puts Croatia on tennis map, again)
"It's a really good feeling," he said of the support -- which included the backing of the New York Yankees' 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
"Everybody calling me 'Kei' or "Nishi'," said Nishikori, who said even though he has lived in Florida for a decade he often still finds Americans calling him "Key" or "Kay".
That kind of mistake will be less frequent if Nishikori can continue to play as he has over the past fortnight.
His run to the final -- itself a first for an Asian man -- included wins over world number one Novak Djokovic, third-seeded Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka, and big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic, the fifth seed who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist.
His fourth-round win over Raonic took four hours and 19 minutes and finished at 2:26 on Tuesday morning -- matching the latest finish in US Open history.
Then came a four-hour, 15-minute five-setter over Wawrinka, and in his first Grand Slam semi-final he out-lasted Djokovic in four sets played in punishing heat and humidity.
"There is a lot of things, positive things, that I learned from these two weeks," Nishikori said.
- 'I can beat anybody' -
Perhaps most importantly for a player who has battled injuries throughout his career, knowing his body was up to the challenge was key.
"I played a long three matches, two five sets and another against Novak. My body is heavy, but I am able to play.
"I don't think a few years ago would happen like this. I think I showed my potential," he said. "I can beat anybody now.
"So if I can keep training hard I think I have more chances coming up."
From being "almost too excited" on Sunday at the prospect of the final, he was "a little bit nervous" when the moment finally came, knowing what was on the line.
"The title is there. So many things to think about," he said. "I was trying to concentrate, but it wasn't enough. Couldn't fight one more match."
Now he'll turn his attention to trying to make the ATP's season-ending World Tour Finals.
And whatever he does, he can be sure a new legion of fans in Japan will be watching.
"It's great to bring great news to Japan," he said. "Tennis has not been the biggest sport in Japan. Women's, yes, but men never make it this far. I'm really happy to make a lot of history.
"Hopefully I can win next time and have something more."