Japan’s Kei Nishikori has easily accounted for Australian wild card Matt Ebden to move comfortably through to the second round.
The last time these two met at the Australian Open 2012, Ebden was on the verge of pulling off a huge upset. Two sets down and staring at an early exit, Nishikori lived up to his reputation, clawing back the deficit to win the match.
Eighteen months on and Nishikori had learned his lesson. This time around the 12th seed gave his opponent few chances as he calmly chalked up a 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
“I played well today. Good start. You know, when it's first round it's not easy to play, but I was started well and played well whole match,” explained Nishikori after the clinical first-round display.
What makes the win even more impressive is the limited preparation Nishikori has had on grass this year – just one match, a loss, at Halle.
A beautiful striker of the ball, Nishikori took control of the match early as he deftly directed Ebden’s movement around the court in a supremely professional performance.
Ebden looked at his best when he forced his way to the net where he won 15 of 23 points but sadly for the West Australian this wasn’t enough to stem the flow of winners – 32 in total – from Nishikori’s racket.
The Japanese No.1 was particularly happy with his backhand, which proved to be a weapon that Ebden was unable to counter.
“A lot of powerful backhand and a lot of winners from the backhand. Yeah, that was the key.”
Early breaks of serve in all three sets proved to be insurmountable for the 110th-ranked Australian who fought valiantly but ultimately didn’t have the firepower to match it with the 12th seed.
To his credit Ebden staved off five match points but these were mere momentary delays for Nishikori’s devoted fans, many of whom were courtside. Nishikori admitted to a few nerves but the world No.11 didn’t panic as he frittered away chances for an early shower.
“A little bit. I was still relax[ed]. Was 5-2 and have two breaks up.
“But it was, yeah, tough game. He served well and had a lot of match point and couldn't finish it. He broke me back for 5-3. It was tough moment, but I finished well the next game.”
The highest ever ranked Japanese man had his best result at The Championships last year when he made it to the third round where he was bundled out in straight sets by Argentine giant Juan Martin del Potro.
Hoping to improve on that effort, Nishikori will next face Leonardo Mayer, the 84th-ranked Argentine who has never made it past the second round here at Wimbledon.
The two have never played before, but the pair has practised together on many occasions and are familiar with each other’s game.
“He has good serve, big serve on grass. It's going to be tough. He has big strokes, so, yeah, it's going to be tough opponent.”
Should Nishikori win that match he’ll be on track to achieve his next goal – a Grand Slam tournament quarter-final. But to get there it’s likely he will have to face his 2012 Wimbledon conqueror in the fourth round – del Potro.
“You know, you have to beat top 10 guys maybe twice to get to [a] quarter-final.
“I'm getting stronger in grass court and getting confidence, so hopefully, yeah, I can do it some day.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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