LONDON - Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the seventh time in his last nine attempts with a shock victory over ninth seed Kei Nishikori on Friday.
The 29-year-old proved too solid for a listless Nishikori, winning 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) 3-6, 6-3 on Court 3.
“I could not get into my rhythm,” Nishikori told a large gathering of Japanese reporters.
“It was really hard for me to be aggressive today. In the third set I began to move him around a bit but it didn’t last long enough, unfortunately. I totally lost my rhythm out there.”
It has been a mediocre year for Nishikori, who is struggling to build on the promise he showed when he reached the 2014 U.S. Open final, losing to Marin Cilic.
After reaching the final in two of his first three tournaments of 2017, he has not made one since and has been suffering with nagging injuries.
On Friday he paid the price for failing to take his break-point chances in the first set, especially at 4-4 when Bautista Agut saved one with a crisp forehand winner.
The Spaniard broke in the next game to take the opening set.
It was a similar story in the second set with Nishikori unable to convert any of the five break-point chances that came his way before succumbing in a tiebreak in which Bautista Agut reeled off the last four points.
Nishikori, who has never flourished on grass and is yet to go past the fourth round at Wimbledon, did briefly gain the upper hand as he took the third set.
When he broke at the start of the fourth with a running forehand pass, to the delight of his fans, it seemed the match could swing his way but it proved a false dawn.
Bautista Agut, seeded 18th, belted a forehand winner to break back and delivered another hammer blow to move 5-3 ahead before sealing victory as Nishikori skewed a backhand out.
Bautista Agut will face stiffer opposition on Monday when he plays seventh seed Cilic.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal is on his way to the fourth round and he’s three matches away from taking over as the No. 1 player in the world.
Nadal beat Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) on Centre Court. If he reaches the final at the All England Club, the two-time Wimbledon champion will take over from Andy Murray as the top-ranked player in the world.
“First set and a half, I think, was very, very well. Very happy (with) the way that I played,” Nadal said in a television interview after walking off court. “Then it was a little bit tougher. I think I stopped a little bit with the legs and he started to hit stronger, but he’s still a tough opponent and it’s impossible to win easy.”
Defending champion Murray also had a tough opponent, but he came through a difficult fourth set to beat Fabio Fognini 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
Fognini led 5-2 in the fourth set and had five set points, but Murray won the final five games to reach the fourth round.
“When you’re playing a guy who has all the shots like him, it’s difficult,” Murray said. “He generates power with very short swings. It’s difficult to see when he’s going to hit the ball big and he was taking me out of my rhythm.”
Nadal was playing in front of several sports stars seated in the Royal Box, including David Beckham. Sergio Garcia, the Spanish golfer who was wearing his green Masters jacket, was also there.
“He’s having an amazing season, especially with that victory, amazing victory in the Masters,” Nadal said. “So, just great to see him and thanks for coming.”
In women’s action, Venus Williams beat one 19-year-old, and she’ll face another on Monday.
Both of those players were born months after Williams made her debut at the All England Club.
Think about that for a minute.
Williams’ 7-6 (7-3), 6-4 victory over Naomi Osaka made the 37-year-old American the oldest woman to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since Martina Navratilova was that age when she was the tournament’s runner-up in 1994.
“I’ve had to step it up. I imagine that’s going to continue,” Williams said. “All I can do is try to be my best.”
This is the 20th appearance at the grass-court major for Williams, who has won the championship five times since her first match at the All England Club in 1997. Next up for Williams on Monday, with a quarterfinal berth at stake, is another foe not yet 20: Ana Konjuh of Croatia.
Osaka spoke about growing up admiring Williams and her younger sister, Serena.
She also acknowledged that these sorts of important rounds at important tournaments are much newer to her. That sort of thing can make a difference at crucial moments, such as the opening tiebreaker Friday. Osaka led it 3-0, before Williams claimed the next seven points.
“I actually feel like it’s better that she beat me, because I can learn more from her, and there’s something more I can look forward to,” the 59th-ranked Osaka said. “There’s more of a goal for me to practice every day and stuff.”
Victoria Azarenka extended her Grand Slam comeback into the second week.
The former No. 1 from Belarus, who gave birth to her first child in December, advanced to the fourth round by beating Heather Watson 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 on Centre Court.
Azarenka also lost the first set in her opening match, but that was only her third match since her return. Friday’s match was her fifth.
“This is the matches that you’re looking for,” Azarenka said, “try to find a way when not everything goes great.”