Raonic down and out after historic marathon U.S. Open match
Milos Raonic hits a return shot to Kei Nishikori during their men's singles match at the U.S. Open in New York, Sept. 1, 2014. (ADAM HUNGER/Reuters)
Milos Raonic helped make history, but he was in no mood to celebrate.
In a U.S. Open round of 16 match that ended at 2:26 a.m., local time on Tuesday (past the 2 a.m. final drinking time in his home province of Ontario) after starting just after 10 p.m., on Monday, the fifth-seeded Canadian lost 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-4 to No. 10 Kei Nishikori of Japan.
The match tied the record for latest finish in U.S. Open history — Mats Wilander and Mikael Penfors (1993) and John Isner and Philipp Kohlschreiber (2012) also ended at exactly 2:26 a.m.
Of course, this was of little consequence for Raonic, who, when asked if playing one of latest matches ever mattered to him, said “Not the slightest bit.”
Raonic, whose movement slowed considerably for much of the final set, said it was a serious grind.
“It was quite tiring,” he said. “It was a combination of fatigue, pain in some ways and just not feeling like I would expect or hope to feel that late in a match.”
Over time, the pain became more of a factor.
“Just stuff I’ve been dealing with a little bit and you’re sort of compensating over,” Raonic said, not specifying where he was feeling pain. “You sort of find parts where you’re not normally sore are getting sore.”
The U.S. Open is famous for matches going well past midnight at Arthur Ashe Stadium — and this one won’t soon be forgotten. At four hours, 19 minutes, it was the longest match at this year’s tournament by one minute.
“It was fun how many people stuck around,” Raonic said. “I think the only thing that was a little bit awkward is you play first (on Saturday), so you have to wake up at 5 a.m. … and then (Tuesday), you’re here till 5 a.m. It’s a little bit weird, that aspect of scheduling. But other than that, the atmosphere and all those other factors was a lot of fun.”
Nishikori appeared to be in big trouble in the fourth set. Dealing with a nagging toe injury, he took a medical timeout to have his foot bandaged and was in clear pain. But he kept fighting, rallying to win a Grand Slam rematch after losing to Raonic in the same round at Wimbledon. Raonic didn’t record a single break in the final three sets. Raonic made a whopping 72 unforced errors, while also hitting 86 winners.
The loss ended a horrible 24-hour stretch for Canadians, who are now out of the tournament in the senior ranks. On Monday, Eugenie Bouchard lost for the first time before a semifinal at a Grand Slam this year. Meanwhile, Vasek Pospisil, in men’s doubles (he won Wimbledon with his current partner, American Jack Sock), and Gabriela Dabrowski, in women’s doubles, also were eliminated from the tournament.
Nishikori next faces No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in the quarterfinals. Nishikori is the first Japanese player to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals since Zenzo Shimidzu in 1922.
Raonic had his back against the wall for long chunks of the match against Nishikori, but managed to survive with the help of his big serve. The Thornhill native fought off eight break points in the third set before winning his seventh tiebreak of the tournament, tying for the most won at the event since it moved to Flushing Meadows in 1978. The tie-break loss in the previous set was just his second in 18 such situations this summer hard-court season.
The Nishikori-Wawrinka matchup is an interesting pairing, but it certainly will play second fiddle to Wednesday’s other men’s quarterfinal — a Big Four showdown between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Raonic, meanwhile, will return to action Sept. 12 for a Davis Cup tie between Canada and Colombia in Halifax.