Clutch Kei Comes Through Once More
Kei Nishikori glanced at his box and fell to his knees. At last, after holding off a gutsy effort from 39-year-old Ivo Karlovic that lasted nearly four hours, Nishikori could exhale: He had survived one of the trickiest tests in tennis.
The eighth seed from Japan ended Karlovic's run at history on Thursday 6-3, 7-6(6), 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(7) to advance to the third round at the Australian Open.
"I think he almost had the match, especially in the fifth set," said Nishikori. "It was a really tough match that could [have gone] both ways. The [fifth-set] tie-break could [have gone] his way too.
"I don't know how I managed to save a couple of break points, but [I am] very happy to win today. I think this means a lot. I'm really happy to go through to the next round."
The 29-year-old Nishikori was rolling along, unbroken for two and a half sets before Karlovic broke in the 11th games of the third and fourth sets to force the decider.
"I felt [in the] first couple of sets I was returning really well," said Nishikori. "I was guessing right and hitting well. But after the third set I think he mixed up really well. Even after a few sets he was serving still really well, and there were too many aces and [also] frustration from my side.
"I tried to keep it simple and focus on what I can do, [during] my service games. He was really serving well today, I think, even on the second serve."
Nishikori, however, carried confidence into the final set: He had won 76 per cent of his deciding sets (126-40), the best winning percentage in Open Era history, according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone. And he came through once more in his first 10-point Match Tie-break in Melbourne.
Karlovic, who finished with 60 aces and smothered the net all match with his serve-and-volley play, led by a mini-break and had two serves to go, leading 7/6. But Nishikori reeled off the final four points to win his second consecutive five-setter in Melbourne. He stayed perfect, too: He has never relinquished a two-set lead.
“I don't know what to say. It was a really tough match. It could [have gone] both ways,” Nishikori said. “I focused well the last couple points. Really happy to win today.”
Karlovic was trying to become the oldest man to reach the third round in Melbourne since Ken Rosewall (44 years, 62 days) in 1978. Of Karlovic's ace count, Nishikori said it might take him 11 more months to reach that tally. “That's almost my one year of aces,” he said.
The 12th seed won 83 per cent of first-serve points (59/71) and hit 26 winners to overcome the Argentine in two hours and 23 minutes. Fognini will meet Pablo Carreno Busta for a spot in the Round of 16. The 27-year-old Spaniard beat Ilya Ivashka 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(7).