LONDON – Kei Nishikori needed two days and five nail-biting sets but eventually defeated Italy’s Simone Bolelli 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time in his career on Monday.
Momentum ebbed and flowed throughout the over three-hour-long saga, but Nishikori had just enough in the tank to overcome a valiant effort from 132nd-ranked Bolelli.
The match began on Saturday but was delayed by several hours due to persistent rain at the All England Club. When play finally began on Saturday evening it was Bolelli who started stronger using a potent one-two combination of a big serve and an explosive forehand to take the first set with Nishikori looking somewhat disjointed.
The world No. 12 quickly got back into the match grabbing the second set with his speedy footwork and steady ground strokes forcing Bolelli into numerous errors.
With neither player able to grab a stranglehold on the topsy-turvy contest, the match entered a decisive fifth set after Nishikori won a tense fourth-set tiebreak as the Japanese star’s serve came good just at the right time.
At 3-3 in the final set with daylight fading, the umpire stopped the match due to bad light forcing the players to come back on Monday to finish the fifth set after Sunday’s traditional rest day at the All England Club.
Once the match restarted on Monday morning, both players held serve until Bolleli faltered serving at 5-4 down. A crucial double fault and a couple of unforced errors from Bolelli handed Nishikori match point, and as the Italian’s trusty forehand caught the top of the net, Nishikori thrust both hands into the air in celebration.
It is becoming quite a year for Nishikori, who became the first Japanese men’s tennis player to break into the top 10 of the ATP rankings in May.
Having achieved a career best by reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon, Nishikori will now set his sights on becoming the first Japanese men’s singles player since 1995 to reach the quarterfinals here.
Standing in his path will be eighth seed Milos Raonic, a big serving Canadian who, like Nishikori, is seen as one of the up-and-coming stars of men’s tennis. Nishikori is 2-0 against him in their career with their last meeting coming earlier in the year on clay at the Madrid Masters in the round of 16.
A win over Raonic will likely see Nishikori face world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who won the Madrid final when Nishikori retired in the third set.