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 morning.
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.
“I’m very happy for now,” said a relieved Nishikori. “There was a lot of stress these two days, especially yesterday. I never had something like this after playing a fifth set, to take one day off and play again today. It was hard to stay focused mentally and I even dreamed about the match on Saturday night.”
“(It was a) very tight match. He was playing really aggressive and flat, both sides, either forehand or backhand, especially forehands.”
“He was hitting a lot of winners, and sometimes I didn’t know what to do,” Nishikori explained. “It wasn’t easy but I was very happy to win today. Despite not playing my best, I still found a way to win.”
The match began on Saturday but was delayed by several hours due to persistent rain at the All England Club. When play finally started again 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, both players held serve until Bolelli 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.
Nishikori paid tribute to one of his coaches, Michael Chang, saying, “I love how he coaches me.
“My tennis is also changing. You see (my) ranking is much higher than last year. So, obviously, his help is something, for sure. He’s very positive always, I learn a lot of things from him (in terms of) tennis and also mentally, too.”
Having achieved a career best by reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon, Nishikori will now set his sights on becoming the first Japanese man since Shuzo Matsuoka in 1995 to reach the quarterfinals in singles 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.
Meanwhile, as the rain at Wimbledon wreaks havoc with the schedule, and players start to complain, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have found little reason to worry about the weather.
It helped that both got to play Monday on Centre Court, the only spot at the All England Club with a retractable roof.
And with back-to-back, straight-set victories, they moved closer to a semifinal showdown that would be a rematch of the final last year, when Murray beat Djokovic to become the first British man since 1936 to win Wimbledon.
“Sometimes the scheduling works in your favor. Sometimes the weather works in your favor,” Murray said. “You just have to deal with it.”
He reached the quarterfinals for the seventh consecutive year by dulling the dangerous serve of 20th-seeded Kevin Anderson and saving a set point in the tiebreaker of a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) win. They played under a drizzle for about 15 minutes before the roof was closed early in the second set.
It stayed that way for the top-seeded Djokovic, and the 2011 champion beat No. 14 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the 11th consecutive time, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5). Djokovic grimaced once in the final set while clutching the upper left arm he landed on in his prior match, but finished strongly and said afterward he felt fine.
“A lot of matches were canceled, but that’s London, that’s Wimbledon, with its very unpredictable weather,” Djokovic said.
Murray, who hasn’t dropped a set, said: “They should always try to play with the roof open, because it’s an outdoor event.”
Easy for him to say.
Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka was less than pleased that his third-round match was put off from Saturday to Monday. He got through it quickly, defeating 45th-ranked Denis Istomin 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 in less than 1½ hours.
Afterward, the fifth-seeded Wawrinka noted it won’t be easy to win five best-of-five-set matches in a week if he’s going to claim the title.
“For sure, I was disappointed,” Wawrinka said about not getting on court Saturday, when showers disrupted play for several hours. “You cannot do anything. You have to accept (it). They do what they want, and you just follow.”
Asked whether he spoke with officials, Wawrinka said: “They just say what’s going to be the schedule and that’s it. Even if you want to talk to them, they’re not going to change anything. They don’t listen (to) the player. They just do what they think is good for them.”
Maria Sharapova never got a chance to play at all Monday, because her fourth-rounder against No. 9 Angelique Kerber was postponed. That was rescheduled for Tuesday, and the winner must play Wednesday against No. 13 Eugenie Bouchard, the first Canadian in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in the 46-year Open era.
The start of Week 2 at Wimbledon is called “Manic Monday,” because it’s the only major that usually has 16 men’s and women’s fourth-round matches on one day. The scheduling scramble changed that.
Bouchard advanced with a 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 victory over No. 25 Alize Cornet.