Kei Nishikori overcomes slow start, beats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in second round

Kyodo, AP

World No. 7 Kei Nishikori advanced to the third round of the French Open with a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 win over France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday.

Having come into the match off a straight-sets victory over another Frenchman, Quentin Halys, Nishikori found the going much tougher against the big-serving Tsonga.

With the crowd at Court Philippe-Chatrier on his side, the 82nd-ranked Tsonga closed out the first set by winning two straight break points after Nishikori went up a break at 4-3.

The seventh seed started the second set by breaking Tsonga in the opening game, then held serve the rest of the set to even things up.

Nishikori, who had won five of eight previous meetings against the former world No. 5, fell behind 2-0 in the third after being broken in the second game. But he immediately broke back, then held serve, to draw level at 2-2.

The 29-year-old then secured the crucial break in game nine to go up 5-4 before serving out the set.

Down a break at 3-1 in the fourth set, Nishikori broke back in the fifth game, then broke Tsonga again in game seven to take a commanding 4-3 lead.

“It was a really tough match, as (Tsonga) is not your normal second-round opponent,” Nishikori said.

“Coming back from 3-0 in the fourth set was big. I got through by really focusing on my return game and playing my own style of tennis.”

A quarterfinalist here at Roland Garros in 2015 and 2017, Nishikori will face 32nd-ranked Laslo Djere of Serbia in the third round.

Chasing a record-extending 12th title at the French Open, Rafael Nadal posted a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Yannick Maden to reach the third round of the clay-court Grand Slam.

Nadal lost only six games in the first round against Yannick Hanfmann. He was on the verge of doing even better on Wednesday but lost focus briefly in the third set and dropped his serve twice.

“That’s just about concentration,” Nadal said. “Because the feeling on the match has been positive. Positive thing is, every time that I (made) the mistake, then I had the break again, and that’s the good news.”

In the next round, Nadal will be up against 27th-seeded David Goffin.

The No. 3 seed, Roger Federer, ousted 144th-ranked Oscar Otte 6-4, 6-3, 6-4. Federer is playing at Roland Garros after a four-year absence.

Sixth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas also advanced, making it to the third round at Roland Garros for the first time. The Greek player overcame a slow start to beat Hugo Dellien of Bolivia 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5.

In the women’s draw, former champion Garbine Muguruza and last year’s runner-up Sloane Stephens both posted straight-set wins to progress to the third round.

On a sunny morning in the French capital, Muguruza beat Johanna Larsson 6-4, 6-1 on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

Seeded 19th this year, Muguruza won the title at Roland Garros in 2016 when she upset Serena Williams in the final. The Spanish player is expected to face tougher opposition in her next match against ninth-seeded Elina Svitolina, who progressed to the third round without hitting a shot.

Svitolina was set to play 67th-ranked Kateryna Kozlova but organizers said the Ukrainian player withdrew with a virus.

Stephens, who lost to Simona Halep in last year’s final, needed a bit more time to defeat gritty but error-prone Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

In a match that featured 11 breaks of serve, Stephens could not hold on to a 3-0 lead in the second set and Sorribes Tormo twice had the opportunity to level at 1-set apiece on her serve. A turning point came in the 11th game when the 22-year-old Spaniard hit two consecutive double-faults to drop serve.