Tennis: Wawrinka, Nishikori survive five-set dogfights

Stan Wawrinka hitting a backhand against Martin Klizan. The 2014 Australian Open winner narrowly avoided defeat.
Stan Wawrinka hitting a backhand against Martin Klizan. The 2014 Australian Open winner narrowly avoided defeat.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MELBOURNE • It may only be the first round of the Australian Open, but two of the world's top five men were forced to dig deep yesterday to overcome less illustrious opponents.

World No. 4 Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, survived a massive scare to edge Martin Klizan in a five-set thriller.

The Swiss, a three-time Grand Slam winner, fought back from a break down in the final set to overhaul the 35th-ranked Slovak 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in 3hr 24min on Margaret Court Arena.

Tensions ran high in the final set when Wawrinka slammed a ball at a defenceless Klizan, who had conceded the point after a rally and was standing at the net.

The fourth seed quickly jumped over the net to offer his apologies as Klizan sunk to his haunches in pain.

"It was a big fright tonight, he's a tough player who pushes a lot and I am very happy to get through," Wawrinka said. "I was fighting a lot and I never give up but it was most important to get through."

Wawrinka will next play American Steve Johnson, who beat Argentinian Federico Delbonis 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.

World No. 5 Kei Nishikori of Japan also went five sets before clearing his first hurdle, defeating Russian Andrey Kuznetsov 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2.

Nishikori prevailed after 31/2 hours on a baking Hisense Arena, recovering from an early wobble against his Russian opponent that vindicated his call to withdraw from an exhibition event last week to rest a hip injury.

"It was a little bit of a slow start today. I didn't quite play great tennis in the beginning, but especially in the fifth set, I think I was really focused and played good tennis," the Japanese told reporters.

"It was tough, really tough match. It was unfortunate to play five sets in a long match. I'll try not to let it happen again, to play a long match like this. But I think I'm in good shape for the next round."

Nishikori, who has long carried Asia's hopes of a first male Grand Slam champion, will next play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy after the world No. 72 eased into the second round when Spain's Nicolas Almagro pulled out with an injury.

Former world No. 1 Roger Federer made a winning return to competitive tennis after six months out of the game due to a knee injury.

However, the Swiss did not have it easy, dropping a set before beating Austrian Jurgen Melzer 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in 2hr 6min. He next faces American qualifier Noah Rubin, 20.

World No. 1 Andy Murray ground out a hard-earned straight-sets win over plucky Ukrainian Illya Marchenko 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 and will take on Russian qualifier Andrey Rublev in the second round.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Wawrinka, Nishikori survive five-set dogfights'. Print Edition | Subscribe