Kei Nishikori battled through the humidity and past Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-1, 7-6(6), to stamp his ticket to the third round of Wimbledon. The world number nine cut an often frustrated figure out on Court 1 in his three hour and 13-minute assignment but closed it out in a fourth set tie-break to advance.
He will face Spain’s Roberto Bautista-Agut in the third round, who dispatched the German Peter Gojowczyk in a four-set battle earlier in the day. Nishikori had never beaten the Ukrainian in their previous two meetings, surrendering twice in Paris – once in Bercy and the other at Roland Garros in the same year. But the career trajectories of the pair could not have been starker, with the Japanese arriving as a heavy favorite despite a shoddy record at SW19.
Stakhovsky famously dumped seven-time champion Roger Federer out of Wimbledon in 2013 and could take confidence from his first round victory over the grass-loving Julien Benneteau. And it was a cagey opening with both players striking the ball with authority and committing little in the way of unforced errors.
Nishikori broke in the fifth game of the opening frame after Stakhovsky botched a routine overhead before immediately restoring parity with an errant smash of his own doing. But the topsy-turving nature wasn’t set to ebb and the 27-year-old punished the Ukrainian at 4-4 by breaking with a sublime forehand pass.
He wrapped up the opening set in a little under 40 minutes before Stakhovsky shored up his game. And he broke in the seventh game of set two when Nishikori framed a forehand into the spectators. But Nishikori battled back from 5-2 and a pair of set points and a tie-break would be forced to separate the duo.
The Japanese held his own set point during the breaker but he was wildly inconsistent with his groundstrokes and it was only fitting that he surrendered the second set with a forehand error. He blasted his way through the third, however, breaking for 3-1 after one of the rallies of the afternoon. And when he fashioned triple set point on Stakhovsky serve there would only be one outcome.
A fourth set, played amongst an infestation of bugs, ensued and it followed in an eerily similar pattern to the second frame. The set remained on serve throughout with not one break point opportunity gifted by either player.
Nishikori was struggling to find depth on his first serve returns while Stakhovsky was having varied success with his serve and volley style. The Ukrainian sensed an opening in the eighth game at 0-30 on Nishikori’s serve but the world number nine recovered impeccably to level at 4-4.
A hold to 15 from the Japanese forced a set tie-break of the afternoon where a mini-break was traded. Nishikori squandered a set point when he netted a forehand volley but the glory was to arrive shortly when Stakhovsky sent a backhand return wide.