Australian Open: Kei Nishikori fights past Andrey Kuznetsov in five sets

Australian Open: Kei Nishikori fights past Andrey Kuznetsov in five sets

A spirited challenge from the Russian came up short as Nishikori progressed to the second round.

John Lupo

Fifth seed Kei Nishikori was made to work hard by Russian Andrey Kuznetsov as he claimed a 5-7, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-2 victory that saw him reach round two of the Australian Open.

Kuznetsov stuns Japanese star by taking the first set

It was to be a battle of Kuznetsov's power against Nishikori's speed, movement and consistency, but through the first eight games of the set, there was nothing to choose between them. The Russian took the initiative and broke Nishikori to claim a 5-4 lead.

Serving for the set, Kuznetsov played a nervous game and combined with some fine groundstrokes by the former U.S. Open finalist, the Russian dropped serve. However, he dusted himself off and broke immediately for a 6-5 lead and when presented with a second chance to close out the set, he grabbed it, holding his serve to 30 for a one-set lead.

Nishikori blows away Russian to take the second set, level match at one set apiece

Kuznetsov was on the attack again to begin the second set as he held two break points in the first game, but he was denied and from that point on, Nishikori found his footing and he finally took his first lead of the match with a break to love to go ahead 3-1.

Now firmly in command, the Japanese star held to 15 and essentially put the set to bed with an insurance break for a 5-1 bulge. A sublime backhand winner wrapped up the set for Nishikori to draw level at one set all.

Nishikori takes close third set to take the lead

Both men settled in and were going stroke for stroke and it appeared Kuznetsov regained the momentum with a break to go up 3-1. Nishikori pegged back and broke and coupling that with a solid hold, the set was tied at 3-3.

The Japanese's rich vein of form continued as he broke to love, drawing a forehand error from Kuznetsov after the Russian had dug himself a 0-40 hole with consecutive double faults. 

Allowing the Russian to beat himself with sloppy errors, Nishikori hit an ace at 5-4, 40-15 to close out the set and take command with a two sets to one lead, Kuznetsov now feeling the pressure.

Kuznetsov wins fourth set with gutsy tiebreak effort

It was Kuznetsov who again got out to the lead, breaking Nishikori to go ahead 2-0. After strong serving from both men, breaks were flowing and after three in a row, it was Kuznetsov who was on top 3-2. He had a further chance for a break, but Nishikori denied him.

Each player would get back into rhythm on serve as there were no more break points in the set, although Kuznetsov would get to deuce with a 6-5 lead. The tiebreaker was looking to be one-sided as Nishikori led 5-2, but an impressive fightback from Kuznetsov saw him rally and after back-to-back errors, the Russian stunningly won the breaker 8-6 and forced the match to a fifth and deciding set.

Nishikori runs away with fifth set as Kuznetsov tires

It was hard to pick a winner as the final set began. With Kuznetsov expending so much energy just to get to a decider, Nishikori would figure to get chances and his brilliant backhand winner at 0-40 gave him a 3-1 lead. A hold to consolidate the break made it 4-1 and it was a long way back for Kuznetsov.

To the Russian's credit, he never gave up and an easy hold was matched by Nishikori, bringing the seventh seed to the brink of victory. He had a match point at 30-40, but his forehand missed the mark, allowing Kuznetsov a temporary reprieve. After the Russian missed a forehand of his own, bringing up a second match point, he would double fault to end proceedings, a bitter way to conclude what was a fine encounter.

Nishikori next faces powerful but inconsistent Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the second round.