© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Kei Nishikori reaches the fourth round at Roland Garros for the fifth consecutive year.

Deciding-Set King Nishikori Battles From The Brink At Roland Garros

Seventh seed trailed by a double-break in the fifth set against Djere

You can push Kei Nishikori, but finishing him off is an entirely different challenge.

The Japanese star showed why he has the best tour-level deciding-set record in the Open Era on Friday at Roland Garros, battling from a double-break at 0-3 down in the fifth set to defeat No. 31 seed Laslo Djere 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3, 4-6, 8-6. Nishikori advanced to the fourth round on the Parisian terre battue for the fifth consecutive year.

"I think he was playing great tennis. I mean, he almost had it. [It's] nice to come back after [being] 3-0 down, two breaks. It wasn't easy, of course. He was playing on fire," Nishikori said. "I had to wait for a small chance, and sometimes I took some risks and was able to break back. [I'm] feeling great after winning a good match."

Nishikori has now won 74.4 per cent of his deciding sets, extending his record to 131-45 when pushed the distance. The seventh seed is also 22-6 in five-setters, including 4-1 at Roland Garros.

"I just tried to hang in there and tried to focus every point. I wasn't thinking too much when I was down 3-0. I knew I'm going to have a little chance, and I was just waiting for one chance, two chances, and I was able to play good in the moment," Nishikori said. "The last couple games I was very confident."

Top 5 Deciding-Set Winning Percentages (Open Era)

 Player  Record  Winning Percentage
 1. Kei Nishikori  131-45  74.4%
 2. Novak Djokovic  175-61  74.2%
 3. John McEnroe  124-45  73.4%
 4. Bjorn Borg  95-35  73.1%
 5. Rod Laver  99-42  70.2%

The Japanese star has now advanced to the last 16 at 11 of the past 12 Grand Slams he has played. And while he has captured 10 of his 12 ATP Tour trophies on hard courts, he has won a higher rate of matches on clay than on any other surface. With his victory against Djere, Nishikori has triumphed in 71 per cent (91-38) of his matches on clay compared to 68.2 per cent (266-124) on hard courts.

You May Also Like: My Point: Laslo Djere Is Without Parents, But Not Without Hope

For a moment, though, it appeared Djere, this year’s Rio Open presented by Claro champion, would spring the upset. The Serbian, who had never previously reached the third round of a Grand Slam, broke in his first two return games of the fifth set, moving just three holds away from earning one of the biggest victories of his career.

View Infosys MatchBeats Of Nishikori's Win

Nishikori MatchBeats

But Nishikori — who reached Deuce in the Serbian's first four service games of the fourth set, but could only break on one of six opportunities in the set, leading to the decider — broke three times in the final set. And finally, after four hours and 26 minutes, Djere missed long and Nishikori lifted his arms in celebration.

"[I have] no regrets because I did the right things on the court, I think. It hurts for sure, and I'm a bit disappointed," Djere said. "It's not a nice feeling to lose after such a long match that way. But yeah, I feel that I left everything out on the court, what I had. So at least that makes it easier."

The World No. 7 will next face Frenchman Benoit Paire, who advanced after taking a 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(1) lead against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, who retired due to a right thigh injury.

Infosys powers real-time insights for every point

The 10th time proved the charm for Paire, who is into the fourth round at his home Grand Slam for the first time on his 10th attempt. The Frenchman had advanced to the Round of 16 just twice in 33 previous major appearances.

Paire is finding some of his best form this clay-court season, currently riding an eight-match winning streak after triumphing at last week’s Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon for his second title of the year (also Marrakech on clay). He will try to overcome a 2-6 deficit in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Nishikori.

"He has a great serve. I think he's been playing very good these couple weeks, and, for me, he has the best backhand on the [ATP] Tour. I've got to be really careful with that," Nishikori said. "[It] seems like he's been playing good. I have to play good tennis if I want to beat him."

Last year, Nishikori needed two hours and 59 minutes across five sets to defeat the Frenchman.

"It's always not easy to play Benoit. He has great touch. Sometimes, you don't know what he's going to do, so it's not easy to lead," Nishikori said. "He's a great player. He comes in very well. Big serve, good backhand, beautiful backhand. And yeah, I'm sure it's going to be a tough one."

Did You Know?
Djere did not break Nishikori's serve in the first three sets, but did so four times in the final two sets. Nishikori, however, broke seven times in his victory to win his seventh consecutive five-setter.

More stories like this in: