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Tennis: Nishikori admits pressure taking toll following quarter-final exit

Kei Nishikori shows the toil of a straight-sets defeat to defending champion Stan Wawrinka.

Kei Nishikori suffered a straight-sets defeat to defending champion Stan Wawrinka at the Australian Open. Photos: AFP.

January 28, 2015: World No. 5 Kei Nishikori admitted that he’s struggling with his new-found fame and status after losing 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(6) to defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

 

The fifth-seeded Nishikori had booked his place in the last eight with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 drubbing of ninth seed David Ferrer in the fourth round and appeared to be peaking at just the right time.

 

However, despite an improved performance in the third set against Wawrinka and saving five match points in the tiebreak, the Japanese star told www.ausopen.com that the hard-serving Swiss simply outclassed him at the Rod Laver Arena.

 

“I felt little bit tired, heavy, but mentally I was fine and ready to go. But he was a little better today,” said Nishikori, who uncharacteristically flung his racquet in frustration after a miss late in the third set. “For sure, I didn’t start it well. In the first couple of games I was missing so much, so many unforced errors. I was going for too much. I don’t know. I maybe felt a little bit of pressure.”

 

The 25-year-old was competing in his first Grand Slam since his stunning run to the final of the US Open, where he beat three of the top five seeds including Wawrinka and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. Following up with back-to-back titles in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo in the ATP’s Asian swing, Asia’s top player has recently settled in to a top-five ranking.

 

“I’m really new to being No. 5. It’s been only couple months at this ranking. I’m just not comfortable. I was top 10 last year, so this is pretty new for me and I need some time to get more experience,” Nishikori said. “I start thinking a little bit about other things outside the court. I might feel pressure, other things, but I think I need some more time to get used to it.”

 

Wawrinka consoles Nishikori after the match, as the Swiss avenged his US Open defeat to the Japanese.

Wawrinka consoles Nishikori after the match, as the Swiss avenged his US Open defeat to the Japanese.

Still, Nishikori was happy to match his best-ever performance at the Australian Open, having reached the quarters in 2012 and lost in the fourth round for the past two years. Before last year’s US Open, the quarter-finals was the furthest he had reached in any Grand Slam.

 

“It wasn’t really a bad week. It’s not easy to make a quarter-final at the Grand Slams. I have to keep doing this,” Nishikori said. “I mean, I could be better, but I think I need these kinds of experience, playing tough all the time, playing a lot of matches. Especially in Grand Slams, there is more pressure. You get more experience in Grand Slams, so hopefully I can keep playing good.”

 

Nishikori beat Wawrinka in five thrilling sets at the US Open last September, but the Swiss abruptly reversed that result on Wednesday, surviving a wobble after being 6-1 up in the third-set tiebreak before finally ousting the Japanese on his sixth match point.

 

The Japanese star could barely gain a foothold in Wawrinka’s service games, with the fourth seed slamming 20 aces among his 46 winners and dropping serve just once throughout the match.

 

Nishikori was his own worst enemy at times, spraying seemingly simple shots well wide, long or into the net. Four straight errors in the fourth game handed Wawrinka a 3-1 lead. Nishikori – who finished the set with 13 errors to just three winners – faced two set points on his serve down 15-40 in the eighth game, but escaped to hold.

 

Wawrinka’s tactic of going back in behind Nishikori with his groundstrokes to nullify the fifth seed’s speed continued to pay dividends and he convincingly served out the set in the next game.

 

Nishikori showed rare displays of frustration with his performance.

Nishikori showed rare displays of frustration with his performance.

Nishikori had chances early in the second set to break serve, but could not capitalise. Instead, it was the Swiss who did so first, his lethal crosscourt backhand forcing errors in the fifth game and putting him ahead 3-2.

 

It simply wasn’t Nishikori’s day. Controlling a rally in the seventh game, he had the Swiss on the run and all Wawrinka could do was loft a loopy forehand to stay alive in the point, yet Nishikori framed the reply, the ball fell short, and Wawrinka crunched an off-forehand winner.

 

Nishikori ultimately saved three break points in that game, but it was clear he was under siege. Wawrinka, meanwhile, had no such troubles on serve, following up a backhand winner with a pair of aces to push ahead 5-3 before taking a two-set lead.

 

Nishikori came alive at the start of the third set, winning eight straight points to open a 2-0 lead and lifting the energy in the crowd. Yet in the very next game, Wawrinka broke serve to love to erase Nishikori’s advantage, putting an exclamation point on the game with a crosscourt backhand winner. The set progressed to a tiebreak, where Wawrinka surged ahead 6-1 thanks to a barrage of winners and aces.

 

The result was not looking quite so certain after Nishikori reeled off five straight points to level at 6-6. However, after controlling the next point, he guided a drop shot from beyond the baseline into the net to hand Wawrinka his sixth match point, raising questions over his shot selection at such a crucial stage. Another Wawrinka ace sealed the two-hour, four-minute victory.

 

Source: Matt Trollope / Australian Open (www.ausopen.com); Editing by SportAsia

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