Kei Nishikori has gone the distance once again, the Japanese marathon man recording a captivating 6-7(8) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-4 7-6(10-8) five-hour comeback triumph against Pablo Carreno Busta to book a fourth Australian Open quarterfinal.
The eighth seed prevailed from two sets down in the opening round against Polish qualifier Kamil Majchrzak, and was also forced to five sets against Ivo Karlovic in the second round.
The immense clash at Margaret Court Arena on Monday night sent the Japanese star into the last eight to face world No.1 Novak Djokovic having played a gruelling 13 hours and 47 minutes this tournament.
“I don’t know what to say, that was the toughest match. I have no idea how I broke back and fought my way through. It was a very great match,” said an exhausted Nishikori.
“I feel like I haven’t played enough,” joked the world No.9. “It hasn’t been easy of course, especially not today. It was hard against Karlovic with a super tiebreak, but today had more longer rallies.”
Nishikori and Carreno Busta duelled in their first-ever meeting into an opening tiebreak, which encapsulated the turbulent nature of the first set.
Locked at 5-5, the Spaniard clattered a backhand down the line into the corner of the court for set point. Three chances went begging for the world No.23, before he chased down a drop shot to flick a canny forehand slice past Nishikori. This time the fourth chance was converted, and Carreno Busta’s 16th winner of the set finally took the honours.
Nishikori was struggling to contain the arrowed accuracy off the Carreno Busta forehand wing, one rocketed effort flooring the Japanese mid-rally as the Spaniard seized control again with a 2-1 break lead.
The 23rd seed fended off a chance for Nishikori to respond with a sumptuous drop shot, and maintained his grip on proceedings to post a two-set advantage on the scoreboard.
Nishikori held from break point down to open the third set, but the world No.9 appeared increasingly affected from his energy-sapping route to the last 16.
The pressure told with a forehand return winner sending Carreno Busta 3-2 up and on the cusp of breaking new ground at Melbourne Park with a maiden quarterfinal.
But Nishikori can never be written off. The 29-year-old had amassed a 20-6 career record in five-setters, with three triumphs from two sets down.
Nishikori quickly began to strike with more conviction, and hauled Carreno Busta into another tiebreak.
The Japanese star’s comeback sparked into life, re-directing a low shot from his shoelaces past his opponent to cap a riveting rally in style. A set was won, but there was still a long way back.
Both players had battled through five-setters at these championships, and another titanic tussle seemed likely with an early 2-0 lead for the eighth seed.
The court coverage from Nishikori was simply sensational, and eight straight points from 4-4 launched the match into a final-set shootout.
“I was of course disappointed to lose the first and second sets, but I tried to be positive and play one game at a time,” said Nishikori. “In the third and fourth sets I played much better and in the fifth we both played top tennis.”
The match had hit the four-hour mark when Nishikori catapulted a backhand winner down the line to chalk up a commanding 2-1 break lead. In a mixture of relief and celebration the 2014 US Open finalist threw his racquet into the air for multiple somersaults.
However, the decider rumbled on.
Carreno Busta wasted two precious break chances at 2-3 down, and Nishikori then had the chance to serve out his quarterfinal ticket at 5-4.
A brace of netted forehands proved costly, as the reinvigorated Spaniard managed to provide a fitting crescendo in a super tiebreak.
The clock was ticking at four hours and 49 minutes of pulsating play, but a quarterfinal berth came down to a race to 10 points.
Remarkable retrieval skills enabled Carreno Busta to launch 8-5 into the ascendancy, but comeback king Kei was far from finished, and rattled through five straight points to steal the glory.
“Very unusual to win five points in a row,” Nishikori said.
“I think played really great points last two points of his service game. I was very focused. I was there and finish with my serve. So everything was working well in the fifth set.
“Getting used to this super-tiebreak. And, I mean, both times I came back from break down. Happy to be finished like that. You know, there was many tough moments. I just tried to fight through every point, and luckily I got five points in a row last tiebreak.”
Source: Alex Sharp