Continuing a thrilling day for Japanese tennis on Court 12 at Wimbledon, Kei Nishikori coasted into the third round at The Championships following a decisive victory over Leonardo Mayer.
Immediately following compatriot Kimiko Date-Krumm’s historic victory over Alexandra Cadantu – at 42, she became the oldest woman to reach the third round at Wimbledon in the Open Era – Nishikori outclassed Mayer 7-6(5) 6-4 6-2 to reach the last 32 for the second straight year.
Initially, however, it did not appear that the No.12 seed would have it so easy.
Mayer proved a worthy adversary, the rangy Argentine equipped with a damaging first serve and the ability to move forward to pick off inevitable short replies.
“I win three set. It's not easy to win (comfortably), especially on grass. He had a good serve today. It's not easy to return and break him. It's not easy,” Nishikori said.
“But I able to take some chances in tie-break, and I broke him first and second and third set. It was good match.”
It was that brand of attacking tennis from Mayer that allowed him to stay with the rapidly-improving Nishikori – who sits at a career-high ranking of No.11 – for the bulk of the first set. Even when facing two set points down 15-40 in the 10th game, he neatly erased them with a pair of aces before levelling at 5-5.
The ensuing tie-break was also a tight affair, before Nishikori’s greater experience and confidence at Grand Slam level helped him snare an important mini-break and pocket the opening set.
Yet when the trainer was called immediately after to tend to Nishikori’s left knee, proceedings took a momentarily dire turn, especially given the spate of withdrawals witnessed yesterday on an extraordinary day at the All England Club.
Thankfully, all that Nishikori required was a stabilising strapping job. And with knee in place, he set about dismantling the man at the other end of the court.
He broke Mayer’s serve immediately and retained that advantage for the remainder of the set, the Argentine yelling in frustration at his inability to make inroads on the 23-year-old’s serve when Nishikori held to move ahead 5-3.
In the following game, Mayer repeated his opening set feat by saving a pair of set points with aces, but in the 10th game, errors proved his undoing, and three consecutive mistakes helped the Japanese player secure a two-sets-to-love lead.
Nishikori’s notable weapon is his whip-like forehand, a wristy shot lashed with a healthy dose of topspin and often played airborne.
Yet it was his backhand doing the damage in the opening stages of the third set. He extinguished a short ball with a backhand winner to gain a break point, and secured the break for a 1-0 lead after another winner off that wing, a looping, wrong-footing stroke that landed plumb on the baseline.
Holding for 2-0, he later produced a running cross-court backhand winner to hold for 3-1, and rifled another – this time after chasing down a drop shot – into the open court to break for 5-2.
Serving out the match was a mere formality – Nishikori belted a service winner to seal victory and set up a third round showdown with Italian No.23 seed Andreas Seppi.
“He's tricky player, especially on grass. He's doing well. He's been playing well on grass. You know, he's steady on the groundstrokes, so it's not easy to break his rhythm,” Nishikori observed.
“But I'm playing well, serving well, return well, everything was doing well, so hopefully I can go further.”
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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