Wimbledon: Kei Nishikori Survives Marathon Opener

Wimbledon: Kei Nishikori Survives Marathon Opener

The Japanese number one was pushed to the limit by the twenty-nine year old Simone Bolelli. He managed to hang on with a 6-3 (4)6-7 6-2 3-6 6-3 victory.

Mariam Khan

The English crowd was in for a thriller when the second match between fifth seed Kei Nishikori and doubles-specialist Simone Bolelli on Court 1 began. Ever since his momentous Grand Slam final appearance at the US Open last year, Nishikori has become a fearsome opponent for all ATP players. However, Bolelli showed no signs of being bogged down by the Japanese man's game as he pushed him to the limit for a second time on the grass courts in two consecutive years.

Just nine days ago, Nishikori was forced to retire from his match at the Gerry Weber Open due to a calf injury, and it was visible the this was still an issue for the fifth seed. His left leg remained bandaged throughout the three hour and twenty-two minute showdown, and he seemed shaky from the first set itself. Bolelli was relentless even in the first, hitting more winners than the Japanese as well as creating three break point opportunities, which he failed to convert. Nishikori began to come into his form by the end of the set, breaking Bolelli for a second time to clinch the opener 6-3.

The second set saw Bolelli coming into his own and trying to wrestle back momentum through some powerful serving as he managed to hit 68% first serves in, winning 81% of his first serve points. Nishikori subsequently lost focus as he made too many errors on his formidable backhand, but continued to manage his serving well too, and the set went by without any break-point opportunities arising for either player. Bolelli played with more intensity as he hit some impeccable inside out and cross court forehand winners in the tiebreak to ultimately win it 7-4.

At 2-2 in the third set, Bolelli found himself serving at 0-40 down after hitting three costly errors. Hitting another backhand unforced error to gift the Japanese a pivotal break, it seemed the Italian had lost steam and the fifth seed would prevail with his experience. He did so in the set, breaking Bolelli's serve again subsequently to go up 5-2 by hitting some tremendous backhand winners. He served out the set 6-2.

It seemed as if Nishikori finally had control of the match, but Bolelli managed to unnerve the Japanese once again by serving out his games confidently. Nishikori lost his footing in the fourth game of the set as he found himself broken after serving up a double fault and making three crucial unforced errors. Besides the twelve unforced errors that the fifth seed hit in the fourth set, he played balls deep yet high, giving Bolelli a huge amount of room to manipulate rallies. Bolelli managed to hold his nerve despite some shaky holds of serve to take the set 6-3.

The fifth set was not one for surprises, however. The Japanese is considered the most reliable player in deciding sets—barring Novak Djokovic—and this title has been given to him for a reason. Despite taking a medical timeout and having painkillers to suppress the discomfort in his calf, Nishikori was successfully able to take the steam out of Bolelli, forcing an error to break him immediately in his first service game of the decider. Bolelli could not make a comeback as his opponent served out the match 6-3.

Nishikori can breathe a sigh of relief for avoiding an early upset, but his lack of focus in the match coupled with his calf issue—which he shrugged off in his post-match interview—are causes for worry as he goes into the next round. He will next face Colombian Santiago Giraldo.