This year’s U.S. Open men’s singles final might be better known for who didn’t make it, rather than who actually wins.
For more than nine years, tennis has seen some mix of No. 1 Novak Djokovic, No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer in every grand slam final. Whether they faced each other or a rising opponent, the three rivals were the most consistent, dominant stars on the tour. In fact, the last time none of them made a slam final was the 2005 Australian Open, when Marat Safin needed four sets to topple Lleyton Hewitt 1-6 6-3 6-4 6-4.
On Monday night at Arthur Ashe Stadium, a new men’s champ will be crowned, and it won’t be a Nadal, Djokovic or Federer.
In the first slam final for both players, No. 11 Kei Nishikori will take on No. 16 Marin Cilic, an improbable matchup few saw coming. If anything, fans anticipated Nishikori and Cilic to fall gracefully to Djokovic and Federer in the semifinal round, but quite the opposite transpired.
Nishikori stunned Djokovic 6-4 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-3, despite winning three fewer total points and hitting eight fewer aces than the world’s top ranked player. Nishikori did much of his damage on his second serve, and won five of his seven break points compared to a 4-for-13 mark for Djokovic. The game was also marred with 69 unforced errors, with Djokovic committing an uncharacteristic 35 of them.
While at first it seems like a shocking loss for Djokovic rather than a career victory for Nishikori, Japan’s top ranked player impressed with his two five-set victories over No. 5 Milos Raonic and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka just to make the semis.
Cilic’s gauntlet to the final wasn't nearly as harrowing as Nishikori's, though he did knockout No. 6 Tomas Berdych in straight sets in the quarterfinals and abruptly ended Federer’s run with a convincing 6-3 6-4 6-4 sweep.
Dominating with his first-serve and firing off 12 service winners to 1, Cilic was able to finally overcome Federer, who had won their four previous meetings and only dropped one set.
For the season, Nishikori and Cilic have each captured two singles titles, but Nishikori has won both their meetings, only losing one set in Barcelona and Brisbane.
The 24-year-old Nishikori holds a 5-2 all-time mark over Cilic, and they’ve met almost exclusively on the hard court. Though Cilic took the last two their two career matches at Flushing Meadows, a Round of 32, four-set victory back in 2012.
Start Time: Monday, 5 p.m. EST
TV Channel: CBS
Live Stream Info: CBS Sports has a live online stream here
Prediction: Cilic is on a roll, especially with his serve and has limited his mistakes. But if Nishikori can force the match into the fourth and fifth sets he’ll have the edge for the victory. Nishikori in five.