Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

U.S. Open: Marin Cilic crushes Kei Nishikori to win men's title

By Ravi Ubha, for CNN
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
  • Marin Cilic defeats Kei Nishikori in New York to claim his first major
  • Cilic and Nishikori were each playing in their first grand slam final
  • A year ago Cilic didn't play at the U.S. Open as he served a drug ban
  • Nishikori was trying to become the first Asian man to win a major

Follow us at @WorldSportCNN and like us on Facebook

(CNN) -- Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic have often been talked about this year as being part of the next generation of players who can break up the dominance of tennis' Big Four.

But judging by his display at the U.S. Open, Marin Cilic could be the most likely candidate.

Cilic became only the third men's player outside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to win a grand slam title since early 2005 when he crushed Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-3 6-3 in under two hours in New York on Monday.

Few, however, would have seen it coming -- last year the 25-year-old Croatian didn't play at the season's final major because he was serving a drug suspension.

Japan erupts in celebration of Nishikori
Japanese fans rally behind tennis player
Becker: Reaction to coaching job surprised me

Cilic felt aggrieved when he received his nine-month ban after testing positive for a banned stimulant he said got into his system accidentally.

It was later reduced to four months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that the initial punishment handed out by the International Tennis Federation was too severe.

He returned late last year with extra gusto -- and a serve made even better by his charismatic coach, countryman and idol, Goran Ivanisevic.

Ivanisevic himself was one of the biggest servers in the history of the men's game.

"In this last year my team has brought something special to me, especially Goran," Cilic, who pocketed $3 million, told the crowd. "We're working really hard, but most important of all the things he brought to me was enjoying tennis and always having fun.

"I think I enjoyed my best tennis over here and I played the best ever in my life.

"One of the biggest pieces of advice Goran gave me this tournament was to not think too much," he later told Britain's Sky Sports. "Toss the ball, hit it, play your game, be aggressive. Try to be relaxed."

The 6-foot-6 Cilic overpowered Federer in the semifinals in straight sets and did the same against the diminutive Nishikori, firing 17 aces and winning 80% of his first-serve points.

In the sixth game of the second set, Cilic hit four straight aces to hold to love. And when it wasn't his thunderous serve, it was his heavy ground strokes that pinned back his Japanese opponent.

While Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2001 to send his nation into a frenzy, Nishikori was bidding to become the first Asian man to claim a grand slam singles title.

Back at home ahead of the finale, excitement soared to unprecedented levels after Nishikori upset Djokovic in the semifinals.

Replicas of his shirt were sold out, his racket was in high demand and television viewers bought subscriptions in vast numbers to watch the final against Cilic that began at 6 a.m. in Tokyo.

Alas, they were disappointed.

How Novak and Petra conquered Wimbledon
Tennis' love match
Japan's 'rock star' tennis pro

But the 24-year-old Nishikori still made history by becoming the first Asian man to play in a grand slam singles final.

Remarkably, he didn't know if he would be able to compete in New York this year because he had surgery to remove a cyst from his toe a month ago and missed warmup tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati.

"He was playing really well today and I couldn't play my tennis," Nishikori told the crowd. "It's a really tough loss but I'm happy to come into the final.

"It was a fun two weeks."

Monday marked the first occasion since the 2005 French Open that two players in their maiden grand slam final faced off, leading Ivanisevic to proclaim beforehand that Cilic and Nishikori would be nervous.

Both began the tournament outside the top 10, though they're now in it.

"They are both climbing to Mount Everest," Ivanisevic told Sky Sports. "I don't know who is going to stick the flag, (a) Japanese or Croatian."

Cilic, though, seemed relaxed from the outset.

He smiled as he walked in the tunnel that led to the biggest court in tennis, during the coin toss and when he took part in the pre-match photo.

It turns out he was bluffing.

"The night before I was completely relaxed," said Cilic. "I was feeling that it's just another match, another day. But a couple of hours before the match the nerves started to kick in and I was a bit nervous.

"I didn't know what to expect on the court."

Cilic -- who entered the encounter with a 2-5 record against Nishikori -- nonetheless set the tone by saving a break point in the first game with a fine running forehand cross court.

Whether it was nerves or the different conditions -- it was cooler and slower than when he downed Djokovic -- Nishikori often mistimed his shots in the first set.

He showed his frustration at 2-4 after he struck a short ball that allowed Cilic to pounce with a forehand. Nishikori never did turn things around, finishing with 19 winners and 30 unforced errors.

Cilic was broken for the only time as he attempted to close out the second set but then broke straight back to take a two-set lead.

Nishikori engineered five-set magic against Raonic and Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round and quarterfinals, respectively, but there would be no stretching Cilic to five sets.

Wawrinka beat Nadal to win the Australian Open in January, although the Spaniard was severely hampered by a bad back.

Another break handed Cilic the lead in the third set and when he fended off three break points in the seventh game, the match was essentially over.

After double faulting on a first match point -- he tried to finish matters in style with a second-serve ace -- there was no mistaking on the second match point.

Cilic ripped a backhand cross-court that gave Nishikori no chance and he collapsed to the court before making his way up to his player box to celebrate.

The celebrations will intensify when he returns to Croatia.

"Everybody from home was telling me it was a huge day for Croatia," Cilic said. "Everybody was stuck to the TVs."

A continuation of this form and Cilic can expect to be celebrating much more in the future.

Read: Serena Williams powers to women's title

Part of complete coverage on
updated 7:08 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Rafael Nadal of Spain watches the ball in his match against Martin Klizan of Slovakia during during day seven of the China Open at the National Tennis Center on October 3, 2014 in Beijing, China.
Rafael Nadal's body might be giving him a few problems, but his mind remains as strong as ever. Will the Spaniard add to his haul of 14 grand slam titles?
updated 8:42 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
A year that began in uncertainty for Roger Federer ended with a historic title for the 17-time grand slam champion and his country.
updated 12:16 PM EST, Thu November 27, 2014
The Scot has served up a few changes to his support team in 2014 but there's one person who isn't going anywhere -- his new fiancée Kim Sears.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
French Tennis player Rene Lacoste, one of France's 'Four Musketeers' who won the Davis Cup in 1932, at Wimbledon. He is wearing his embroidered crocodile motif. Original Publication: People Disc - HH0434 (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
His distinctive crocodile logo is seen on clothing all over the world, but Rene Lacoste also left a lasting legacy in the development of tennis.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
Marin Cilic follows in the footsteps of his coach Goran Ivanicevic by claiming a grand slam crown for Croatia, winning the U.S. Open.
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
Serena Williams of the US holds the US Open trophy after defeating Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark during their US Open 2014 women's singles finals match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Center September 7, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Serena Williams is without peer in the modern women's game and now she is on a par with two American tennis legends from the past.
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Tue September 2, 2014
American tennis player and golfer Althea Gibson (right) receives a kiss from compatriot Darlene Hard, whom she beat in two sets to become the first black woman to win the Women's Singles Finals at Wimbledon.
Over the course of her remarkable life, Althea Gibson was many things to many people -- but it was tennis where she really left her mark.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Canada and tennis? Really? Yup. The North American tennis power balance is swinging away from the States.
updated 8:52 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
As a player he was as fiery as his hair -- and as Novak Djokovic's coach, Boris Becker says he has to battle to keep his emotions in check.
updated 7:02 AM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Tennis great Boris Becker says he was stunned by the level of criticism he received after being appointed as Novak Djokovic's coach.
updated 7:01 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
"I didn't cry once when I practiced in front of the mirror," says Martin Emmrich. But the nerves kicked in when he got down on one knee on court.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
When Agnieszka Radwanska refused to look her opponent in the eye after losing at Wimbledon, it raised more than eyebrows.
updated 9:14 PM EDT, Sun June 22, 2014
It's 10 years since a teenage Maria Sharapova became the darling of Wimbledon's hallowed Center Court, launching herself as a star.
updated 3:46 AM EDT, Fri May 23, 2014
He's regularly voted France's favorite famous person, but many of the nation's youth have "no idea" about his glorious sporting past
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Tue April 29, 2014
Five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis has followed her mom into a coaching role, setting up a new tennis academy in Barcelona, Spain.