For the second time in three days, Kei Nishikori found himself battling through a fifth set, fighting fatigue as much as his opponent, and somehow ending up the last player standing.
After the 10th-seeded Nishikori outlasted No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4, on Wednesday, he could manage little more than a smile by way of celebrating the 4-hour-15-minute match.
It did not help that he was less than two days removed from a 4:19, fourth-round victory over Milos Raonic that ended at 2:26 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, tying the U.S. Open record for the latest finish of a match.
"I don't know how I finished that game," Nishikori said Wednesday. "But I'm very happy." (Also read: Coach Chang tells Nishikori to keep feet on ground)
Mats Wilander and Philipp Kohlschreiber, the two men who previously won matches at 2:26 a.m. in 1993 and 2012, respectively, both failed to win a single set in their next round.
But Nishikori, who was done few favors by schedulers by being put in the afternoon session on Wednesday, showed few signs of fatigue. (Also read: Expect sparks to fly in Monfils vs Federer)
"That was a little bit tough because I never had that experience," Nishikori said of the late finish. "But always, you know, good to win after 2:30 a.m.
"I had a little bit jet lag today," he added, smiling. "No, it's good; it's good. My body is good."
Wawrinka, who won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, was impressed by Nishikori's endurance.
"If even at the beginning he looks like he's going to die on the court, but he's there," Wawrinka said. "Physically, he's there. Even at the end of the match, even. We were both quite tired in the fifth set. I try not to show. I still think that I was the fresher on the court, but he handle well. He was really going for his shot in the fifth set. I had some chance to break him. Maybe I should go a little bit more, maybe I should try a few different things, but didn't happen that way. That's life."
Nishikori, 24, has two days off before the semifinals on Saturday, when he will play the winner of the match between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 8 Andy Murray.
Nishikori became the first Japanese man to make a semifinal of the U.S. championships since Ichiya Kumagae in 1918. He did it the hard way, not only reaching his first Grand Slam semifinal, but doing it by beating Wawrinka, who is no slouch in tough matches.
The match had not started well for Nishikori, who fell behind by 0-3 in the first set. The second set was also a bit topsy-turvy, but Wawrinka handed Nishikori a gift by double-faulting on break point at 5-6.
The third set featured long rallies often ending in spectacular shots. Nishikori grabbed an advantage, only to squander it. He was serving for the set, leading by 5-3, but when he was down by 15-30, he unwisely tried a between-the-legs shot that plunked into the net to give Wawrinka a break point that he converted.
Although Nishikori would win the tiebreaker in spectacular fashion, the match was destined to go the distance.
The fourth-set tiebreaker proved equally dramatic, with Wawrinka soaring to a 4-0 lead only to have Nishikori surge back to tie it. Nishikori picked the wrong time to send a few shots long and wide, and a fifth set became necessary.
It did not turn until Nishikori easily won his service late in the final set, unfurling an audacious drop shot for a winner on game point. Wawrinka then blinked again, double-faulting to give Nishikori two match points. He converted the second into the victory when Wawrinka sent a final forehand into the net.
Nishikori did not raise his arms in victory, managing little more than curling the sides of his mouth toward the sky. In his box, however, his coach led a much more raucous celebration.
In a fitting bit of U.S. Open symmetry, Nishikori's coach is the former U.S. player Michael Chang, who played the longest match in Open history - 5:26, in a semifinal loss to Stefan Edberg in 1992.
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