Marathon man Nishikori racks up another five-set win

The Japanese former world No.4 has now spent eight hours on court through two matches

Kei Nishikori, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

There have been many false dawns in the life of Kei Nishikori lately but when the Japanese says he’s on his way back to regaining his place in the top 10, you’d better believe him.

The 31-year-old produced yet another five-set victory – his 26th in 33 matches to go the distance – as he beat Karen Khachanov, the No.23 seed, 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the third round at Roland-Garros on Wednesday.

And though the former world No.4, who has dropped to No.49 in the rankings after yet more injuries, admitted he was feeling it physically, he was delighted with his standard of form against such a good player.

“Yeah, that part I'm really happy with,” he said. “Comparing the end of the last year with this tournament, I'm playing much better this year and fighting for two four-hour match. I don't think I could do that last year.”

“My level was pretty high. Even though I'm not having great result, I think the Europe season was good for me: Madrid and Rome. I only lost to top-10 players.

“You can say I'm not beating top-10 players right now, but I think things are getting much better for me. I think I'm on the way to top 10 again. Yeah, I'm really enjoying this moment.”

Having gone five sets in the first round against Italian qualifier Alessandro Giannessi, Nishikori needed to go to five again, thanks to Khachanov, a former quarter-finalist in Paris, who played aggressively and boldly throughout.

The Russian looked like he would go on to win when he took the third set but after a gruelling exchange of games at the start of the fourth set, all of which went to deuce, Nishikori levelled the match and it was then that his five-set record kicked in.

“Because everybody is telling me I have good records, sometimes I have to think that I have to keep building my record after going five sets,” he said, with a smile. “That's little bit giving me pleasure, too.

“I think fifth set, I'm really playing good tennis, more than any sets. Even though I'm tired, I think I'm playing better and more free, more aggressive, not being passive. Yeah, I think I do many good things, especially in the last set.”

Kei Nishikori, Roland-Garros 2021, 2nd round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Nishikori will play the young Swiss, Henri Laaksonen, who knocked out the 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in four sets.

He’ll get his coach to do some scouting work to find out what to do against Laaksonen but his biggest concern is recovering in time to be 100 per cent ready.

“My body said no (after the third set), but my mind was just keep playing,” he said. “So I was able to win the fourth set without thinking anything. Of course, fifth set you want to fight till the end. Even though I was tired, I was keep playing. At the end I got my chances coming and I grab it, play good I think the last game.

“It makes it tough playing four hours two in a row. (If) I'm aiming to (get to) the final, this is not the best start of the tournament. That's the only thing I don't like it. I feel like I’ve played five matches already. I just try to get good recover tomorrow and fight another one next.”