LONDON (AFP) – Kei Nishikori dug deep to keep his Wimbledon challenge alive as the Japanese star ground out a 6-4, 6-7 (7/9), 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) win over Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky on Wednesday (July 5).
Despite reaching at least the quarter-finals of the other three Grand Slams, Nishikori has never been past the fourth round at Wimbledon.
The world number nine was pushed hard by Stakhovsky, who famously stunned Roger Federer at Wimbledon three years.
But Nishikori, 27, ignored the searing heat on Court One eventually prevailed in three hours and 15 minutes.
“I knew it was going to be a tough match because Sergiy’s best surface is grass,” said Nishikori, who is finally fit after a host of injury problems.
“The last set was very tough. It was hard to get a break. I played good enough.
“I felt very good on the court. I had enough energy for a fifth set as well. I’m very happy to be healthy again.” Nishikori’s cause wasn’t helped by the plague of flying ants that descended on Wimbledon throughout the match and kept smacking into his face.
“There were so many, they were hitting my face all the time. It wasn’t easy but I kept my focus,” he said.
Former US Open finalist Nishikori faces Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round as he aims to make the last 16 for the third time.
Although he has won all four of their previous encounters, Nishikori is taking nothing for granted.
“I know I have to raise my level to beat Roberto. It will be a tough one. I’ll try to recover and get some rest,” Nishikori said.
“I don’t think we played on grass. He’s a good player, very solid from the baseline. I will try to stay aggressive.”