Kei Nishikori has come through a brutal five-set match against local hope Marinko Matosevic to advance to the second round at Australian Open 2014.
The No.16 seed from Japan battled for three hours and 41 minutes in 41-degree heat to finally subdue the in-form Australian, winning 6-3 5-7 6-2 4-6 6-2 and setting up a second-round match against Serbian qualifier Dusan Lajovic.
The loss takes Matosevic’s record in Grand Slam first-round matches to 0-12.
It was an unfortunate draw for the Victorian given Nishikori was in fine form himself, having won the AAMI Classic warm-up event at Kooyong last weekend.
And it was obvious that the Japanese was going to be a difficult opponent to match from the very opening stages – Nishikori broke serve in the first game and maintained the buffer for the rest of the set to take an early lead.
Matosevic, who reached the quarterfinals at both the Brisbane and Sydney events in the fortnight prior to coming to Melbourne Park, would not be discouraged.
Buoyed by the atmospheric crowd braving the heat on Show Court 2, the Australian settled into the contest, and the pair went neck-and-neck throughout the set until Matosevic scored a decisive break deep in the stanza to the level the match at one set all.
Yet in a similar situation to the first set, Nishikori struck early in the third set. Scoring a service break in the second game, the Japanese No.1 drove the knife in deeper with another break in the final game of the set, capturing it 6-2 and beginning the fourth set with the advantage of serving first.
Again, Matosevic rallied. He answered Nishikori’s challenge by breaking serve immediately, and did so again in the seventh game.
Serving for the set at 5-2, Matosevic tightened somewhat, but made no mistake the second time around at 5-4, sending the match into a fifth and deciding set.
The momentum swings kept coming. Against the tide, Nishikori broke serve in the second game thanks to passing shot and forehand winners en route to a 3-0 lead, and despite Matosevic slamming down an ace to get on the board at 3-1, the 28-year-old was always playing catch-up.
He continued to battle; Matosevic survived six break points in an epic, 26-point sixth game, holding serve to stay alive at 4-2 down.
But Nishikori would not be denied. He responded with a service hold to love, and on his first match point in the next game, clinched victory when Matosevic erred on a backhand.