Nishikori overcomes Stakhovsky
Originally published on 05/07/17 00:00
The No.9 seed has made the quarter-finals or better at the other three Grand Slams, including a run to the final of the 2014 US Open, but is yet to reach the last eight at the All England Club. He got to the fourth round for the second time in his career in 2016, only for a rib problem to force him to retire against Marin Cilic.
Be it coincidence or correlation, Nishikori’s efforts on grass have been plagued by injury problems – in the past three seasons, he has retired at both Halle and Wimbledon, including a hip ailment in Germany in the build-up to the Championships.
But the 27-year-old insists the time off have allowed him to recover fully, so he can focus on going further at Wimbledon than ever before.
Nishikori had lost his previous two meetings with Stakhovsky, both back in 2011, and the qualifier posed problems in the second round once more, grabbing the second set before going down 6-4 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(6).
“I knew he was going to be a tough player,” said Nishikori, who will face No.18 seed Roberto Bautista Agut for a place in the last 16.
It was a plague of a different kind that bugged Nishikori out on No.1 Court – literally. A swarm of flying ants hovered around the players on Wednesday afternoon, crawling around the court, chairs and bags, and constantly buzzing around the players in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun.
“There were so many,” Nishikori said. “The bugs kept hitting my face during rallies all the time, but I tried to keep focused.”
He ended the match with 35 unforced errors, but there were moments of brilliance in Nishikori’s performance as he subdued the Ukrainian, who is no stranger to early upsets at Wimbledon, famously stunning Roger Federer at the same stage of the tournament in 2014.
With coach Michael Chang looking on, the world No.9 did well to refocus after seeing set point come and go in the second-set tiebreak, racing through the third set before Stakhovsky again slowed his progress without truly threatening to take the match to a decider.
Crucially, Nishikori heads into the third round feeling fit. “I have to raise my level to beat Bautista [Agut],” he admitted, but with a 4-0 record against the Spaniard, there is every reason to believe he can do just that.
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