BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – Japan failed to reach the quarterfinals of the Davis Cup, losing its first-round World Group fixture against Britain when Kei Nishikori lost in five sets to world No. 2 Andy Murray in an epic reverse singles match on Sunday.
Murray took the first two sets but Nishikori forced a final set before losing 7-5, 7-6 (7-6), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 in their four-hour, 54-minute marathon match. Nishikori, who earned a reputation at the 2014 U.S. Open for grinding down opponents in five-set battles of attrition, said he had a chance but that Murray was able to hang in too well.
“(I made) some unforced errors that I shouldn’t have. But I think he raised his level in the fifth set,” Nishikori said. “I knew he was going to come back because he always does. And I was fine. There was no way I was going to give up in this important match. I tried to focus, but he was better in the fifth.
“I thought I was playing good tennis from the first set. Maybe I lost some focus for a few games in the second set. But I started playing better, and focused. I lost the match, and it’s not easy, but I’m happy with my tennis.”
Nishikori said the loud home crowd in Birmingham comes with the job.
“The Davis Cup is always like this,” he said. “The crowd is always crazy. It’s never easy, but it’s always exciting and fun. If maybe I stay focused a little more, I think maybe I have a chance to beat him.”
The match was the longest of Murray’s career, according to daviscup.com, and by winning his third match of the fixture, he improved his winning streak to 14 Davis Cup matches.
Trailing 6-5 in the first set, Nishikori was serving to force a tiebreak, but handed the lead to Murray with the help of a pair of double faults. In the second-set tiebreak, Nishikori battled back from a 4-0 deficit with five straight points.
“If I don’t rashly attack too much and mix up my shots, I have a chance,” said Nishikori, whose strong returns allowed him to win the next two sets as Murray’s tempo faltered.
“I was getting a bit frustrated in the third and fourth sets, tiring a little physically, but when you get to the fifth set, you’re that much closer to the finish line so it’s much easier to give your best on every point,” Murray said.
Nishikori appeared to carry that momentum into the fifth set, breaking Murray in the first game.
“The first time I was trailing in the match, I thought this match could go either way,” Murray told the tournament’s website.
“The level of the match was very high for large parts. The first couple of sets, I was playing a bit better than Kei, and his level wasn’t what it was in the third and fourth sets.
“My level then dropped in the third and fourth sets. In the fifth, it felt like both of us were playing well at the same time for the first time in the match.
“It’s a great atmosphere, very intense with a lot of pressure, when you’re missing chances and very fatigued and stressed.”
Britain now faces a quarterfinal tie at Serbia, where a game against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic appears likely.
“Very tough match obviously,” Murray said. “Any time you play away it’s a slight disadvantage. Hopefully everyone will be fit. It should be a great match in a fantastic atmosphere.”