MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Kei Nishikori was taken to five grueling sets in baking heat before advancing at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
The 16th seed was on court for 3 hours, 41 minutes before subduing Australian Marinko Matosevic 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the second round.
With new coach Michael Chang watching in the stands, Nishikori finished the better in the 40 C heat to fight off the 54th-ranked Matosevic.
Nishikori, who beat Tomas Berdych in the final of the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne last weekend, will play Serbian qualifier Dusan Lajovic in the next round.
Former French Open champion Chang is working in an advisory capacity with Nishikori, who is aiming to crack the world top 10.
Asia’s most accomplished men’s player recorded his best Grand Slam result in Melbourne in 2012, when he reached the last eight, and when he appeared in the Roland Garros fourth round in 2013, he was the first Japanese man in 75 years to progress as far.
Nishikori jumped out to an early lead after breaking Matosevic’s opening service and again in the ninth game to take the first set.
But the Australian proved resilient, leveling the match with the second set after a break in the 11th game.
Matosevic ran afoul of the chair umpire in the third set, receiving two time violations and docked a penalty point to hand Nishikori a 5-2 lead.
Matosevic had a running verbal battle with the chair umpire and he lost the third set with a service break to give Nishikori the upper hand.
The Australian kept the pressure on Nishikori and broke him twice on the way to taking the match into a fifth set in the stifling heat.
But Nishikori got an early break to take control of the deciding set as he fought off Matosevic’s challenge.
“This was tough,” said Nishikori, who conceded his first break point in the 11th game of the second set and took a medical timeout to have his left foot taped in the third. He banged out 44 winners to Matosevic’s 46.
“It would’ve been good if I could’ve won the match in three sets, but my opponent was also playing some good tennis. I wasn’t playing well with the winds being too strong, but I was able to win by being aggressive in the end.”
Go Soeda, however, failed to advance to the second round as he was broken seven times en route to a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 loss to fourth-seeded Briton Andy Murray.
A pair of Japanese women advanced to the second round. Kurumi Nara won her Australian Open debut, defeating China’s Peng Shuai 7-5, 4-6, 6-3, while Ayumi Morita beat Nadiya Kichenok of Ukraine 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).
Misaki Doi, however, fell 6-1, 6-2 to eighth-seeded Serb Jelena Jankovic.
Rafa, Roger through
Melbourne Australia AP
After a day of searingly hot temperatures which raised complaints from players, top-seeded Rafael Nadal advanced to the second round of the Australian Open in relatively mild conditions.
Nadal’s Australian opponent, Bernard Tomic, bothered from the start by a left leg injury, retired from the match after losing the first set 6-4. Some in the capacity crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena booed lustily when Tomic indicated he could not continue.
Roger Federer, Andy Murray and defending champion Victoria Azarenka advanced earlier Tuesday amid temperatures that topped 42 C.
Third-seeded Maria Sharapova joined them when she beat American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-3, 6-4 in the last match of the night. Mattek-Sands double-faulted on break point in the ninth game of the second set, and Sharapova served out.
Tomic called a medical timeout after three games, and twice more before he quit.
“Unfortunately, it’s unlucky how it happened. I went for one ball and felt pain in my left leg,” Tomic said of the training injury.
Nadal said he felt for his opponent.
“I know how tough is this situation, I had the same a few years ago at this tournament,” Nadal said. “Since the beginning, I saw a little bit he had some problems on the leg.”
Federer started his record 57th consecutive Grand Slam tournament with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 win over Australian wild-card entry James Duckworth on a day when the heat forced at least one player to black out during his match.
Azarenka played the opening match on the center court, and said it felt “like you’re dancing in a frying pan.” She had a 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 win over No. 91-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden.
Former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt lost in five sets to No. 24-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy only a week after beating Federer in the Brisbane International final.
A hot, gusty breeze swirled across Melbourne Park all day, making conditions more challenging instead of cooler. The crowd for the day session was 35,571, almost 12,000 down on day one.
Players draped bags of ice over their necks and shoulders and sat under covered seats in the changeovers. They retreated into the shade at the back of the courts between points.
Canadian qualifier Frank Dancevic said he blacked out during a 7-6 (14-12), 6-4, 6-3 loss to No. 27 Benoit Paire of France. Dancevic had treatment in the second set but continued.
“I think it’s definitely hazardous to be out there,” Dancevic said. “It’s dangerous.”
Murray agreed the conditions bordered on being dangerous.
“It’s easy to say that the conditions are safe . . . but it only takes one bad thing to happen and it looks terrible for the sport when people are collapsing,” Murray said. “Whether it’s safe or not I don’t know, but you’ve got to be very careful.”
Tournament referee Wayne McKewen defended a decision not to invoke measures which would have seen outdoor matches suspended and the roofs on two arenas closed.
“While conditions were hot and uncomfortable, the relatively low level of humidity ensured that conditions never deteriorated to a point where it was necessary to invoke the ‘Extreme Heat Policy,’ ” McKewen said.
No. 13 John Isner, the only seeded American man in the draw, retired with an injured right ankle after losing the first two sets against Martin Klizan. Czech veteran Radek Stepanek retired with a sore neck in the fourth set against Blaz Kavcic, but said it wasn’t heat-related.
No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 2008 Australian finalist, advanced with No. 11 Milos Raonic, No. 22 Grigor Dimitrov and No. 31 Fernando Verdasco.