Red-lining for two sets, cramping the rest, qualifier Kamil Majchrzak has handed eighth seed Kei Nishikori a huge early scare before succumbing on a searing Day 2 at Australian Open 2019.
Nishikori had not fallen in the opening round at Melbourne Park since 2009 but was left agitated and desperate for answers as he conceded the opening two sets before emerging 3-6 6-7(6) 6-0 6-2 3-0 ret’d.
Majchrzak had won through three rounds of qualifying but a second-round defeat at a Challenger event in Adelaide leading in had given no indication the damage he would inflict early on in his first encounter with a top-10 opponent.
The 23-year-old, at a career-high No.179, had played just one tour main draw match and had never beaten a top-50 opponent.
Barring a gold medal in the Youth Olympics in China five years ago, his was a name scarcely on the radar. But if there were any nerves in his Grand Slam debut they weren’t showing on Margaret Court Arena as he matched Nishikori off the ground, reading everything the Japanese 29-year-old threw it him.
If anyone was struggling with the heat early on it was the No.8 seed.
“I have to say he had it today,” Nishikori conceded after Majchrzak hobbled to the net to call time at 3-0 in the deciding set. “He was playing very well, better than I thought, I have to say.
“It was very unfortunate how we finished, but I’ll try to do my best for the next round and hope I can play better.”
Majchrzak looked to have given his more credentialed opponent a sniff of hope when he failed to serve out the second set at 5-4. But his maturity in handling the pressure belied his experience as he steadied to snatch the tie-break.
There was no hint of the lifeline he was about to hand Nishikori.
As the mercury continued to surge into the mid-30s, the Pole began to cramp in his right hand and left thigh. He hobbled to the chair having dropped six straight games to gift Nishikori the third set in just 28 minutes.
The Japanese player could hardly believe his luck.
Down an early break in the fourth set, Majchrzak had no option but to tee off at will with his movement so compromised.
He finally stemmed the flow of 10 games against him with a hold for 1-4 in the fourth, rousing the crowd as he gingerly made his way to the chair.
But it was only delaying the inevitable. His body simply would not hold up to compete much longer.
“I was trying to play better every set, second set playing better but he was still playing amazing tennis, forehand, backhand, serving really well today,” Nishikori said. “I didn’t do anything in the fourth set, he was hurt. I feel sorry for him.”
Nishikori had missed AO 2018 due to wrist surgery but arrived at Melbourne Park this year in hot form having won his 12th career title in Brisbane leading in.
He will treat his AO 2019 opener as a momentary blip. Making the most of this lifeline, he will hope for a better start in the second round, against big-serving Ivo Karlovic.
“I have to be happy to go to the next round because I almost lost today,” Nishikori said. “But I will try to be more positive for the next round and hopefully I can play better.”
One lucky escape and with it, Majchrzak becomes a name that will always register on Nishikori’s radar.
Source: Dan Imhoff