A US Open men’s singles final between Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Croatia’s Marin Cilic is one that few would have predicted this year, which has provoked some staggering statistics.
The Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd were stunned in New York on Saturday, as first 10th seed Nishikori defeated world number one Novak Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 7-6, 6-3 to reach his first Grand Slam final, before 14th seed Cilic advanced by beating five-time champion Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
The final will take place on Monday evening in the same stadium, after which a new name will be written on to the trophy, but it will also mark many other tennis firsts.
Nishikori is not only the first Japanese player to reach the final of a Grand Slam, but he is also the first Asian to do so, and the last Japanese player to have come close to reaching that landmark was Jiro Satoh, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 1933.
Cilic is the first Croatian to reach a Grand Slam final since Goran Ivanisevic won his only major at Wimbledon in 2001, who ironically also shocked the tennis world at the time, as he was ranked at 125 before the start of the tournament, and he is still to date the only wildcard to have won a Grand Slam.
None of the top four seeds will be contesting this year’s final, as Djokovic and Federer were seeded first and second respectively, while third seed Stanislas Wawrinka was beaten by Nishikori in the quarter-finals and fourth seed David Ferrer lost to Gilles Simon of France in the fourth round.
The last time a Grand Slam final featured none of the top nine seeds was the 2002 French Open final, where 20th seed Albert Costa won an all-Spanish final against 11th seed Juan Carlos Ferrero.
Breaking the mould
This year’s US Open final will not be competed by Federer, Djokovic or world number two Rafael Nadal, and this is the first time this has happened since 2003, when Ferrero lost out again to American Andy Roddick.
It is also the first time that any Grand Slam final has not boasted one of those three since the 2004 French Open final, where Argentine Gaston Gaudio won his only major by beating compatriot Guillermo Coria.
Gaudio was unseeded at Roland Garros that year, and either Nishikori or Cilic will be the lowest ranked player to have won a Grand Slam since then.
You would have to go back to 2008 to find the last time a Grand Slam final was played between two players who were without a major, as this was the case when Djokovic beat France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Australian Open final that year.
With a world ranking of 16, Cilic is the lowest ranked player to reach a Grand Slam final since Sweden’s Robin Soderling reached the French Open final in 2009 while he was ranked at 25th, before losing to Federer.
Both players will be playing in their first Grand Slam final, and the last time two major final debutants came up against each other saw a 19-year-old Nadal come past Argentina’s Mariano Puerta.
Monday’s final at Flushing Meadows will be the first time a Grand Slam final will see two players who have not won that specific title previously since Nadal and Djokovic faced each other in the 2010 final at the same venue, which was won by Nadal in four sets.
Before the start of 2014, 34 of the previous 35 Grand Slams had been won by one of the so called “Big Four” of Federer, Djokovic, Nadal or Britain’s Andy Murray.
So who would have thought that two players from outside that group could win their first major this year?
Wawrinka broke his Grand Slam duck at the Australian Open in January, beating Nadal in a four set final, and the successes of both US Open finalists could indicate the beginning of the changing of the guard in tennis.
Based on these statistics, whichever player stands on top of the podium on Monday evening will have pulled off an almost unthinkable task, and the players are scheduled to walk on court at 5pm local time.
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