By Piers Newbery BBC Sport at Flushing Meadows
Croatia’s Marin Cilic won his first Grand Slam title with a comprehensive straight-sets win over Kei Nishikori of Japan at the US Open.
Cilic won 6-3 6-3 6-3 to become the first Croat to win one of the four tennis majors since his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, at Wimbledon in 2001.
The 14th seed dominated throughout on a cool, breezy day in New York, hitting 17 aces and dropping serve just once in one hour and 54 minutes.
His victory completes a Grand Slam year that has seen eight different winners of the singles titles across the men’s and women’s games, for the first time since 1998.
“I don’t know how I did it. It was hard work over the last few years and especially this last year,” said Cilic, who missed last year’s US Open as he served a ban for taking a prohibited stimulant.
“My team has brought something to me, especially Goran.
“We’re all working really hard but the most important thing he brought to me was enjoying tennis, and always having fun. I think I played the best tennis of my life.”
|BBC Sport tennis correspondent Russell Fuller|
|“This time last year Marin Cilic was holed up in Croatia, serving the last few months of his doping ban and adding a few more revs to his serve. The burning sense of injustice he still feels has driven him to an achievement which had appeared beyond him: he played so calmly and consistently for most of the match – as if the trophy was his destiny.|
|“Coach Goran Ivanisevic has also played a major part: adding more shots to his repertoire and inflating his self belief. The faster courts at the US Open played to his strengths, and he will enjoy Australia too .. when the Grand Slam year restarts.”|
Nishikori said: “He was playing really well today, I couldn’t play my tennis. It’s a really tough loss but I’m really happy for first coming to the final.”
Cilic, 25, kept up the momentum he had gathered in brilliant wins over Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer to power though to the title with nine sets in a row.
Nishikori, coached by former French Open champion Michael Chang, had a much more punishing route to the final, taking more than 11 hours to get past fifth seed Milos Raonic, third seed Stan Wawrinka and world number one Novak Djokovic.
Japan’s first Grand Slam finalist was not lacking for support, with huge numbers of his compatriots at Flushing Meadows for the final and a nationwide TV audience tuning in back home at 6am local time.
It was not fatigue or backing that proved decisive in the final, however, as Cilic simply outplayed the 10th seed.
|At 16 in the world, Cilic becomes the lowest-ranked US Open champion since Pete Sampras (17) in 2002|
|Cilic is the lowest-ranked Grand Slam winner since Gaston Gaudio (44) at the 2004 French Open|
|This was the first US Open final between two players making their Grand Slam final debut since 1997, when Pat Rafter defeated Greg Rusedski|
|The last Grand Slam title match with two first-time finalists was at Roland Garros in 2005, when Rafael Nadal defeated Argentine Mariano Puerta|
The Croat saw off a break point in game one, swatting it aside with a crunching forehand winner, before finding his range on serve.
That allowed him to concentrate on attacking the Nishikori serve, and the pressure told in game six when the 10th seed drifted a sliced forehand wide to drop serve.
Cilic played a superb game to close out the set after 33 minutes and broke again in the third game of the second set, despite Nishikori saving a third break point with a stunning drop shot.
A less-than-full Arthur Ashe Stadium was well and truly behind the Japanese player as they craved a more compelling contest.
|Marin Cilic||Kei Nishikori|
|Match time: 1hr 54mins|
|52||1st serve %||51|
|80||1st serve win %||55|
|61||2nd serve win %||59|
|5/11||Break points won||1/9|
Cilic was on a roll though and earned a double break, meaning he could afford to drop serve for the first time before serving out at the second opportunity.
When a retreating Nishikori floated a backhand wide to fall 3-1 behind in the third, it appeared that Cilic would have the smoothest of paths to his first Grand Slam title.
He faced three break points when just two games from victory, but fired down an ace between tame Nishikori returns and punching the air after arrowing a backhand winner down the line to hold.
Moments later, two huge serves helped him to championship point and, after a double-fault on the first, he swung a backhand into the the open court and roared in celebration.