So often Kei Nishikori’s undoing in the latter stages of Grand Slam’s is his inability to close out matches and, in a battle in which the Japanese’s concentration lapsed at key moments, he will be breathing a huge sigh of relief that he was able to prevail in under three hours, ousting Bradley Klahn 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the second round of the US Open.
Victory appeared a formality for the world number seven when he led 5-1 in the fourth set. Klahn, who had battled commendably for the previous three sets, looked out of answers, unable to respond to the Japanese’s frequent forays to the net. And yet in the blink of an eye the set was back on serve.
Four match points came and went for Nishikori, each more agonising than the last, before he watched a Klahn backhand sail long. The muted celebration told its own story.
The former finalist said courtside: “I lost focus a little after 5-1. He started playing a little better, too. I knew it was going to be tough because he has a great serve, and he served really well today.
“I’m happy to win. It was a good match and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
In truth, the match appeared to be on the Japanese’s racquet from the get-go. 101 places in the ATP rankings separate these two and it was apparent that the American, who dispatched Thiago Monteiro in straight sets in the opening round, would have to seriously redline his game to breach the defence of Nishikori.
His second serves contained extra pop, but his backhand lacked the required depth. As such, Nishikori quickly settled into his rhythm from the back of the court, dragging the American from pillar to post in a first set that spanned only 28 minutes.
The Japanese broke early to start set two, but it would prove a false dawn for those of a Japanese persuasion inside Louis Armstrong Stadium – one of only two courts in action after the heavens opened above New York before the start of play on day three. The errors began to leak from the 29-year-old’s racquet and, from a position of strength ahead 4-2 in set two, he contrived to surrender four straight games.
It felt like it was turning it one of those days when Nishikori squandered two break opportunities in the third game of set three. But he shredded the disappointment to break Klahn’s resolve in his very next service game, claiming the third set in similar fashion to the opener.
Upping the aggression, the Japanese laid siege to Klahn’s serve at the beginning of the fourth set, before sealing his place in the third round despite his best efforts to gaze at the scenery.