Between Wimbledon 2003-2014, only three players had managed to break the spell and steal the Grand Slam crown from Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray! That list became more extended at the US Open 2014 when Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori set one of the most surprising Major finals in the last ten years.
Namely, after Andy Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero had fought for the crown in New York in 2003, there was Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal in every title match at the last Major of the season for the next decade, looking to continue that streak when Roger and Novak advanced into the semis that year.
Marin and Kei had different plans, though, with Cilic toppling Federer in straight sets after an incredible performance and Nishikori who battled past Djokovic to set the final between the two first-time Major finalists. A hard-fought win over Gilles Simon in the fourth round aside, Cilic was the player to beat during the fortnight in New York, serving like never before under the guidance of Goran Ivanisevic and unleashing bombs from his forehand to overpower all the rivals, including Roger Federer.
In what was the most notable career match for both players (the first Major title clash with two first-time finalists since Roland Garros 2004), Marin defeated Kei 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and 54 minutes on September 8 for his maiden Grand Slam crown, becoming the second Croat with a Major title after his coach Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon 2001.
For the fourth match in a row, Marin upended a player against whom he had a negative H2H (it was their fourth meeting and the second win for Cilic, with Kei prevailing in five sets at the US Open 2010), fending off eight out of nine break points and stealing Kei’s serve five times from 11 opportunities.
In 2014, Marin Cilic dominated the field to win the US Open crown.
Both players served at 52%, and it was Marin who would always be the favorite in that case, hitting 33 service winners and taming his shots more efficiently to seal the deal in style and start a massive celebration.
Cilic won 43% of the return points and was too strong for the Japanese on that day, playing better in the crucial moments and keeping the points on his racquet with a controlled aggression that earned him the title. Marin made the most significant difference in the shortest range up to four strokes, dominating his serve and the first groundstroke to break Kei’s resistance and baseline patterns.
Also, Cilic had the upper hand in the most extended exchanges, emerging as a deserved champion after everything he had shown in seven matches in New York. Interestingly, Nishikori earned a chance on the return in the very first game, denied by a forehand crosscourt winner from Marin who drew first blood at 3-2, scoring a break after a loose forehand from Kei to move in front.
A service winner pushed Cilic 5-2 up after just 24 minutes, clinching the opening set after forcing Nishikori’s error in game nine for a 6-3. Kei was unable to impose his strokes, suffering another break in the third game of the second set, looking tired and unsettled before getting a chance to pull the break back after creating two opportunities a few minutes later.
Marin stayed calm and got out of jail with a service winner and a forced error, drawing another mistake from his rival to move 3-1 ahead and gain more confidence. Both players held at love in the next couple of games, and it was Cilic who scored another break in game seven after a deep return, creating a 6-3, 5-2 gap in just an hour.
Serving for the set, the Croat fired a forehand long to lose serve and keep Kei in contention for a couple of minutes more, delivering another break in game nine with a forehand down the line winner to grab the set 6-3 and take a step towards the finish line and a big trophy.
The Japanese lost his serve in the fourth game of the third set after spraying a forehand error, allowing Marin to cement the advantage with another great hold that sent him 4-1 ahead. Nishikori was there to fight until the very last point, creating three break chances in game seven but failing to seize any as Cilic blasted three service winners, firing another great backhand to bring the game home and force Kei to serve for staying in the match.
Nishikori held in game eight to reduce the deficit. Still, Cilic was not to be denied, placing a backhand crosscourt winner in the next one to become a Major winner for the first time, stealing one of four most prominent tennis crowns away from the ‘Big 4’ and writing his name in the history books.