Cilic tops Nishikori at US Open for 1st Slam title - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Cilic tops Nishikori at US Open for 1st Slam title

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Marin Cilic, of Croatia, reacts after defeating Kei Nishikori, of Japan, during the championship match of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Marin Cilic, of Croatia, reacts after defeating Kei Nishikori, of Japan, during the championship match of the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

NEW YORK (AP) — Unable to play in the U.S. Open a year ago because of a doping suspension, Marin Cilic is now the tournament's champion.

Croatia's Cilic won his first Grand Slam title by beating Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 on Monday at Flushing Meadows, using 17 aces — including four in one game — and the same powerful groundstrokes that helped him eliminate Roger Federer in the semifinals.

The 14th-seeded Cilic prevented the 10th-seeded Nishikori from becoming the first man from Asia to win a major singles championship.

There hadn't been a matchup between players making their Grand Slam final debuts at Flushing Meadows since 1997, and this hardly qualified as a classic, lopsided and lasting less than two hours.

Nishikori stunned Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, and this was the first Grand Slam final since the 2005 Australian Open without Djokovic, Federer or Rafael Nadal, who won the U.S. Open in 2013 but is sidelined now by a wrist injury. That trio had won 34 of the past 38 major titles, but this was the second of this season that eluded them.

Some, including Cilic, had seen Stan Wawrinka's victory at the Australian Open in January as a sign that the next tier of players were about to get a crack at the trophies.

Twelve months ago, Cilic missed the U.S. Open while serving a four-month ban after testing positive for a stimulant at a tournament in Germany in May 2013. The International Tennis Federation initially sought a two-year punishment, but Cilic wound up with a shortened suspension on appeal. He said he ingested the substance unintentionally via a glucose tablet bought at a pharmacy and calls the process that led to his penalty unfair.

Cilic, whose only previous trip as far as the semifinals at a major came at the 2010 Australian Open, used the forced break from competition to improve his game. And that work was on full display the past two weeks — and especially Monday, under thick gray clouds and in a strong breeze.

These opponents offered an intriguing contrast in size and styles.

The 6-foot-6 (1.98-meter) Cilic relies on his massive serve and a substantial wingspan that allows him to get to shots other players wouldn't.

The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Nishikori — according to the ATP, the 8-inch (20 centimeter) height difference was the largest for a Grand Slam final in the Open era — built his game around terrific returns, plus speed and reflexes that allow him to take balls on the rise at the baseline.

There are also, to be sure, similarities.

Nishikori is 24, Cilic is 25. Each is coached by a guy who won a Grand Slam trophy — 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic, the last Croatian man to win a major tennis trophy, works with Cilic; 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang works with Nishikori.

The Arthur Ashe Stadium artificial lights were on and the stands were mostly empty when the players walked out to the court at 5 p.m. — which was 6 a.m. in Japan, but did not prevent folks there from gathering to watch the popular Nishikori on TV.

One indication of how far these two men have come: Their two previous U.S. Open meetings were in the second round in 2010, won by Nishikori, and the third round in 2012, won by Cilic.

This time, there was never really any intrigue.

Cilic won 19 of the last 20 points he served in the opening set, helped by three aces at up to 134 mph (216 kph). The biggest obstacle for Nishikori, really, was there were not many extended groundstroke exchanges — and even when there were, he tended to lose them.

He was off at the start, whether because of the wind's effect on the balls, the accumulated fatigue after having won two matches lasting more than four hours each to get past No. 3 Wawrinka and No. 5 Milos Raonic, or perhaps simply nerves, knowing what was at stake for him, his country and his continent.

Four miscues by Nishikori ceded a break that gave Cilic a 4-2 lead, and that was that for the first set.

Cilic broke again to lead 2-1 in the second. Nishikori staved off three chances — the last with a drop shot to take a 19-stroke point, bringing his agent to his feet in the guest box — but couldn't take care of the fourth, dumping a backhand into the net.

In the final set, Nishikori finally broke for the only time, but that wasn't enough. Up 4-2, and facing one last test, Cilic saved three break points — one with an ace and two when Nishikori slapped second serves into the net.

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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