Tennis: Kei Nishikori survives five-set scrap against Fernando Verdasco

Nishikori returns the ball to Spain's Fernando Verdasco during their men's third round match.
Nishikori returns the ball to Spain's Fernando Verdasco during their men's third round match.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - Kei Nishikori puffed out his cheeks in relief after he beat Spanish dangerman Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 3-6 2-6 6-4 in a French Open third-round tussle that featured 16 breaks of serve on Friday.

The result left fifth seed Nishikori as the only Japanese player still standing of the six who started the tournament – but at times it seemed like the 26-year-old might join the exodus.

The players fought out 37 break points and each dropped serve eight times.

The 32-year-old Verdasco even won more points than Nishikori in the match, 154 to 151.

In the end, however, Nishikori’s younger limbs carried him over the finishing line, setting up a fourth-round meeting with French favourite Richard Gasquet.

“I’m sad that I lost, but I’m also happy of the way that I played in general,” said Verdasco, who is no stranger to five-set marathons.

He kept compatriot Rafael Nadal on court for more than five hours at the Australian Open in 2009.

“I saw the stats, and I won more points than him and I lost the match. That can happen in tennis. In other sports if you make more points than your opponent, you win. It’s just a pity for me that I lost.”

After winning such an exhausting battle on the hottest day of this year’s championships, Nishikori was a man of few words.

“Tough, tough five sets. It wasn’t easy, but very happy to win,” said the 2014 US Open runner-up.