Kei Nishikori's historic run at the US Open fell short of a championship as Croatia's Marin Cilic rode a big serve to a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory in the men's final Monday in New York.
The 14th-seeded Cilic fired 17 aces with a serve hitting up to 214 kph, but also outplayed the rising Japanese star with his well-placed groundstrokes in winning in 1 hour 54 minutes for his first Grand Slam title and 12th overall.
"Marin was playing really well today, I couldn't play my tennis. It's a tough loss, but I am happy to get to my first final," Nishikori said in an on-court interview. "But I will get the trophy next time - it was a fun two weeks."
Nishikori had taken a 5-2 advantage in career meetings with Cilic into the match, including victories earlier this year in Brisbane and Barcelona. But he was no match on this day for the 25-year-old Cilic, who faced nine break points and only lost one.
Cilic, who knocked off five-time champion Roger Federer in the semifinals, became the first Croat to win a Grand Slam since his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, won Wimbledon in 2001. He had to miss last year's tournament as he was serving a four-month doping ban.
Cilic, at No. 16 in the world, is the first US Open champion ranked outside of the top 10 since Pete Sampras won in 2002 while ranked 17th. He will move back into the top 10 at No. 9 when the next rankings are released, according to the ATP website.
"Everything I was working for and dreaming came today," Cilic said. "For all the other players that are working hard, this is a big sign, a big hope, that if you're working hard, things are going to pay off."
Nishikori, 24, who nearly skipped the tournament after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst on his toe, was the first-ever Asian to make the men's singles final of a Grand Slam event.
He was also the first Japanese to make a Grand Slam semifinal since 1933 and the first in the US Open since 1918.
His run to the final included wins over three of the top five seeds in succession - No. 5 seed Milos Raonic and No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, both is five sets, and top seed and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.