* Nishikori starts slow as Wawrinka grabs early lead
* First Japanese man in slam semi since 1933 (Adds quotes, detail, byline)
By Steve Keating
NEW YORK, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Marathon man Kei Nishikori wore down Swiss third seed Stan Wawrinka 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7) 6-7 (5) 6-4 to reach the U.S. Open semi-finals on Wednesday, becoming the first Japanese man in 81 years to make the last four of a grand slam.
Having already played the longest match of the tournament in the fourth round, a four-hour 19-minute battle with Canadian Milos Raonic, the 24-year-old had enough in reserve to fell the Australian Open champion in four hours and 15 minutes.
“My body was tight,” said Nishikori, after emulating the feat of countryman Jiro Satoh, the 1933 Wimbledon semi-finalist.
”It’s great for my confidence, play two five-sets straight and a lot of 7-6.
“It was a tough game, especially after losing fourth set.”
The 10th seed Nishikori now awaits the winner between world number one Novak Djokovic and Scotsman Andy Murray later on Wednesday.
“I was a little bit tired yesterday, but today was almost ... not 100 percent but close to feeling pretty good, my body,” he said.
Nishikori arrived at sun-bathed Arthur Ashe Stadium looking fresh despite having played the latest finishing match ever at the U.S. Open a day earlier, when he walked off court on Tuesday morning at 2:26 a.m. local time.
He got off to a stuttering start, however, as Wawrinka jumped in front 3-0 and took the opening set. But it did not take long for Nishikori to find his rhythm as both players and spectators settled in for punishing baseline slugfest.
”Normally after two days or a little bit less you’re there, you feel good, especially when you win,“ said Wawrinka. ”I wasn’t surprised because I know how he is.
”From outside he looks really dead but we know on the court he can play.
”If even at the beginning he looks like he’s going to die on the court, but he’s there. Physically he’s there.
“I still think that I was the fresher on the court but he handled well.”
With Wawrinka serving for the second set the counter-punching Nishikori landed the key break when the Swiss double-faulted to level the match.
After withdrawing from Toronto and Cincinnati with a right toe injury, Nishikori threw a scare into the crowd when he called for a medical time out early in the third to have his foot examined and taped.
Repairs done, the tireless Japanese hopped out of his chair and quickly broke his Swiss opponent to go up 4-2.
Wawrinka was also in the mood for a fight and with Nishikori serving for the set, the Swiss grabbed the late break and forced a heart-stopping tiebreak only to concede it 9-7 when he fired a backhand long.
The tension built into a fourth set tiebreak that saw Wawrinka storm ahead to 4-0 before Nishikori again dug deep to level at 4-4.
This time, however, it was Wawrinka showing grit, fighting back to take the tiebreak 7-5.
The deciding set appeared headed for yet another tiebreak until Nishikori seized his chance.
With the score 5-4 and Wawrinka serving to stay in the match the Swiss double-faulted to hand Nishikori two match points.
Wawrinka would save the first with a service winner but netted on the second.
”Very honored to make the history,“ said Nishikori, who now lives in the United States. ”I always love to play here because I feel a little bit like home. It’s very close to where I live.
“Also a lot of Asian and Japanese fans come up. Always fun to play here.” (Editing by Frank Pingue / Ian Ransom)