-- NEW YORK -- A week before the US Open, Kei Nishikori is hitting balls from a sitting position. He has just had a cyst removed from his right foot and is unsure whether he will even be able to play the tournament. But former Grand Slam champ Michael Chang, one of his coaches, encourages him to compete, telling him stories about players almost pulling out and then reaching the final or winning the tournament. Just get through the first two rounds, Chang says.
So he did. Apparently, Chang was on to something. Here's the story of the legend that is now Kei Nishikori.
Tuesday, Aug. 26: Nishikori decides to play and wins 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 over Wayne Odesnik. His foot is bothering him, but as he will recall, "I knew my tennis is still there."
Thursday, Aug. 28: In the second round, Nishikori's opponent cannot complete the match. An injured Pablo Andujar stops at 6-4, 6-1, giving Nishikori some extra rest that will come in handy later.
Having a good hit this morning. http://t.co/uVBofuFnk3
- Kei Nishikori (@keinishikori) September 1, 2014
Monday, Sept. 1: Tuesday, Sept. 2 Now comes the first big challenge. Nishikori plays Milos Raonic, a rematch of their Wimbledon encounter won by Raonic. But this time it is Nishikori who defeats the big-serving Canadian, winning 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6) 7-5, 6-4 in a night match that finishes at 2:26 a.m., tying the record for latest match in US Open history.
- Chris Fowler (@cbfowler) September 2, 2014
Needless to say, Nishikori was wiped out during that epic battle.
Back at the IMG Academy where Nishikori still trains, his onetime coach was following his progress.
@keinishikori, you owe me 3 hours of sleep but it was well worth it. Congratulations on a great win and making the quarters!
Thursday, Sept. 4: Nishikori defeats Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4 in the quarterfinals, going more than four hours again but getting to his first Grand Slam semifinal. "What a night again," says a tweet from the 10th seed. He does at least get two days before having to return to play the semifinal, but there are questions about whether he will have enough energy.
Nishikori is now headline news back in his country, where he is already one of the biggest sporting names. As the best male player ever from Japan, he is the fifth-highest-earning men's tennis player, according to Forbes, getting more than $10 million a year.
Saturday, Sept. 6: That means tremendous excitement when he defeats No. 1 Novak Djokovic in four sets 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3. Nishikori looks fresher despite his two previous four-hour contests and becomes the first Asian-born male to reach a Grand Slam final.
Amazingly happy with my win today. Doing some media now. Always great to meet some legends http://t.co/vgM3dQpD6S
The match finishes at 4 a.m. in Japan, but fans stay up to watch.
Although the final will be at 6 a.m. in Japan, even more fans will be tuning in as Nishikori takes on Marin Cilic in the final.