PARIS – Kei Nishikori will meet seven-time champion Rafael Nadal in the last 16 of the French Open after the Spaniard beat Italian Fabio Fognini 7-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday.
Nishikori earlier in the day had beaten local favorite Benoit Paire 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-1 to become the first Japanese man to reach the fourth round of Roland Garros in 75 years.
Fumiteru Nakano was the last Japanese man to do it in 1938.
“I’m not too good with history (so I don’t know Nakano) but still it is nice to make a new record,” smiled Nishikori. “I think at the end of the day I deserved to win the match.
“Neither of us was at 100 percent but to dig in and win the way I did gives me confidence.”
The 23-year-old Nishikori, the 13th seed, has never beaten Nadal in four previous matches and their meeting in the last 16 will be their first on clay.
Nadal is chasing his fourth consecutive French Open title.
For the third time in three matches at this year’s tournament, Nadal hardly looked himself for a set against Fognini.
Unlike in the first two rounds, Nadal won his opening set, albeit barely. The takeaway, even after another victory, was the same: The owner of a record seven titles at Roland Garros is not the dominant force he usually is at the clay-court tournament.
“If I want to have any chance,” Nadal acknowledged. “I really need to play better.”
Hours later, the man Nadal beat in last year’s final and could meet in this year’s semifinals, No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic, seemed vulnerable, too. Walking to his changeover chair at 4-3 in the third set of a 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 win against No. 26 Grigor Dimitrov, Djokovic stretched his right arm — the one he’s used to win six Grand Slam titles — several times. He then was treated by a trainer, who applied ointment and gave Djokovic a massage near the shoulder.
Two games later, the match was done, Djokovic was into the fourth round, and he raised that arm in his typical victory celebration.
His mood would shift dramatically soon. When Djokovic left the court and went to the changing room, he was told by his team that his first coach — Jelena Gencic, who began working with little Nole when he was 6 — had died in Belgrade earlier Saturday. Djokovic issued a statement through the tournament saying that he would not be able to attend a post-match news conference.
“His team kept the news secret from him until after the match,” ATP spokesman Nicola Arzani said. “He just broke down. . . . He was very, very, very close to her.”
Djokovic next faces No. 16 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The other matchups in that half of the bracket established by results on a wild Saturday in Paris: No. 12 Tommy Haas against No. 29 Mikhail Youzhny, and No. 7 Richard Gasquet against No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka.
Haas let a record 12 match points get away from him in the fourth set, then saved one in the fifth, before eventually pulling out a 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-7 (10-12), 10-8 victory over 19th-seeded John Isner, the last American man in the field and the player best known for winning a 70-68 fifth set at Wimbledon three years ago.
“In hindsight, probably would have been better to lose in straight sets,” Isner said, “because I feel terrible right now.”
In Nishikori’s victory, his opponent, France’s Benoit Paire, was assessed a point penalty for being coached. The same thing happened to Marina Erakovic of New Zealand during her loss to No. 17 Sloane Stephens, one of four U.S. women into the fourth round.
That’s the most since four also made it in 2004; five made it a year earlier. She’s joined by 54th-ranked Jamie Hampton, who stunned 2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-1, 7-6 (9-7); 67th-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who also won on Saturday; and 15-time major champion Serena Williams, whose fourth-round match was on Sunday.
Stephens gets the most intriguing matchup with a quarterfinal berth at stake, taking on defending champion Maria Sharapova on Monday.
Sharapova dealt with eight double-faults against unseeded Zheng Jie before winning 6-1, 7-5.
Hampton next plays 2008 U.S. Open runnerup Jelena Jankovic.