Four more games are all it took Kei Nishikori to take care of unfinished business on Monday, but the Japanese dynamo was in no rush to play his maiden Wimbledon fourth-round match just yet.
Having survived a five-set see-saw affair with Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli in a match held over from Saturday, the No.10 seed may have had plenty left in the tank to power those speedy legs, but having to turn around to face No.8 seed Milos Raonic later the same day may have been a big ask.
“I don’t think so. I am too tired mentally,” he joked after his brief return to close out the 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-4 triumph.
Nishikori reached the semi-finals on the grass at Halle leading in, but had never made the last 16 before at Wimbledon. On paper, few expected the world No.132 standing across from him to pose much of a hassle, having never made it past the third round of a major and after a final-round qualifying defeat to Sam Groth.
Making the most of his lucky-loser call-up though, Bolelli had seen off Nishikori’s countryman Tatsuma Ito and No.22 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber en route and started the stronger of the two when play resumed at 3-3 in the fifth set on Monday.
Stepping back onto a packed Court 12, Nishikori was forced to fend off two break points before steadying with games continuing on serve until 5-4.
A double fault and a forehand error from the Italian – a former world No.36 – handed his Japanese opponent match point before one final netted backhand sealed the result.
Nishikori’s 39 winners were eight less than his opponent’s, but he committed almost half the Italian’s 41 unforced errors. Bolelli had fallen agonisingly close to becoming the first man since Dick Norman to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon as a lucky loser.
“This one was ... very tight match for especially me because he was playing really aggressive and flat, both side, either forehand, backhand, especially forehand. He was hitting a lot of winners and sometimes I didn't know what to do. I was kind of like yo-yo. I was running side to side,” Nishikori said. “I think Saturday he was playing much better than me. But, you know, today was some lucky shot. Three-all I was down 15-40 on my serve.”
It appeared having the extra day off before returning to finish the match was not necessarily a chance to freshen up as it took its toll mentally.
“It wasn't easy. First time for me to feel like that. Yeah, it was very tough time to concentrate all the way until today,” he said.
With the 24-year-old finally making inroads on challenging his peers at the top of the men’s game in 2014, Nishikori believed the stranglehold the big names have had on the majors was loosening.
A greater self-belief that he was now ready to make a deep run at the majors had grown.
“You see this year it's little bit changing already. Stan [Wawrinka] won Australia. Also, you know, me, I've been playing well. Also the young guys, Raonic, [Grigor] Dimitrov, are beating top guys sometimes,” he said. “I don't have fear to play those guys anymore. I used to have maybe last year or couple years ago, but not anymore. I think we are getting closer to top four or five guys.”
A first Wimbledon quarter-final berth for either Nishikori or Raonic is on the line. Just how close either one is to breaking through against these five at a major is ready to be tested.
World No.1 Rafael Nadal would be their expected quarter-final hurdle.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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