Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
Something about the grass just hasn’t agreed with Kei Nishikori over the years.
A superstar in his native Japan, Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event at which Nishikori has failed to reach the quarter-finals. In fact, he has either given a walkover or retired injured in his last five grass court tournaments. His ailments, in chronological order: 2015 Halle (calf), 2015 Wimbledon (calf), 2016 Halle (rib), 2016 Wimbledon (rib) and 2017 Halle, Germany (hip).
Although Nishikori said he was trying to play more aggressive tennis after winning his first round match, he scraped through against one-time Roger Federer conqueror Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(6) on No.1 Court.
With both men looking out of sorts for large parts of the match, it was the more experienced No.9 seed from Japan who eventually prevailed, despite hitting 35 unforced errors errors and blowing two set points in the second against the qualifier, ranked No.122.
"I know he was going to be a tough player," said Nishikori, who will face the No.18 seed, Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, in the third round. Although Nishikori said he was fully healthy and played “good enough” against Stakhovsky, he admitted: "I have to raise my level to beat Bautista."
As if playing a tricky opponent on a roasting hot day wasn’t enough, Nishikori also had to deal with hordes of bugs hanging around his court. "There were so many,” he said. “The bugs kept hitting my face during rallies all the time but I tried to keep focused.”
Watching Nishikori in full flow is a sight to behold and, after a sluggish start, there were flashes of brilliance in the final two sets that will give him a lot of confidence for his match against Bautista Agut, whom he leads 4-0 but has never played on grass.
Although Nishikori had lost his previous two matches to the Ukrainian, they both took place in 2011. Since then, Nishikori has become the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final – the 2014 US Open. He rose to a career-high No.4 in 2015 but his career has often been held back by injury.
If you think Andy Murray is under pressure as the home champion at Wimbledon, spare a thought for Nishikori, who can’t walk the streets of Tokyo without causing a stampede. Although his superstar status has made him a wealthy man who is raking in lucrative endorsements – and the only tennis player who has his image emblazoned on a jet liner – he has chosen to make Florida his home because he can go about his business unnoticed there.
Stakhovsky, meanwhile, caused one of the biggest upsets in Wimbledon history when he served-and-volleyed defending champion Federer out of the second round in 2014. But the 31-year-old Ukrainian has struggled this season, playing mainly on the second-tier Challenger circuit and failing to win back-to-back matches at Tour level.
After he took the first set 6-4, Nishikori squandered a 40-15 lead to drop serve and go down 4-2 in the second as his double-handed backhand, normally rock solid, started to falter. But leading 5-2, Stakhovsky crumbled as he failed to take two set points on Nishikori’s serve and was broken as he served for the set at 5-3.
Leading 5-2 in the tie-break, Stakhovsky lost both service points as he chose to stay back instead of his customary rush to the net. Pinning his opponent back behind the baseline, Nishikori then created his first set point, which he lost when Stakhovsky lured him forward with a drop shot and then won the point with a volley.
A second set point came for Niskikori at 7-6, but once again he was unable to pull the trigger as he ended the longest rally of the match on an error. A double fault then handed Stakhovsky his third set point, which he finally converted with a big serve after 66 minutes. Nishikori raced through the third set, 6-1, in 35 minutes but Stakhovsky was not done just yet, forcing another tie-break in the fourth.
Watched by his coach, former French Open winner Michael Chang, Nishikori took a 5-2 lead as his backhand finally clicked into gear and he moved to the third round with a service winner.
Nishikori was deeply disappointed when he had to retire injured last year in the fourth round against Marin Cilic. Here’s hoping he stays healthy this time.