Rafael Nadal survives Japanese storm Nishikori to reach Australian Open quarter-finals

Zee Media Bureau/Manushree Chaumal

Melbourne: The packed audience at the Rod Laver Arena witnessed an exhilarating fourth round clash between Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori amid distractions and medical time-outs taken by both the players.

In the epic three-setter between the number one seed Rafael Nadal and the sixteenth seed Kei Nishikori, Nadal emerged victorious winning the match in straight sets 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-6 (7-3) in three hours and seventeen minutes, after Nishikori played a brilliant game, giving tough competition to Nadal.

The match was assumed to be a lop-sided affair until the start. The Japanese did give scare to the Spaniard, who eventually proved with his classic shot making why he was the numero uno. The first set went to a tie-break with Nadal eventually winning it 7-6 in 65 minutes with 6 aces and 13 winners.

Soon, the Japanese No.1 was leading the second set 4-2, sealing the sixth game with a forehand winner, well within 33 minutes. However, Nadal broke back and levelled the set 4-4 before toppling in court in the ninth game, breaking his shoe-lace in the process. A short break and Nadal was back with new laces on! Nishikori, though was not much pleased with the break. The set levelled 5-5 before Nadal took it 7-5 in 62 minutes.

A medical time-out delayed Nadal`s third set, as he was seen struggling with issues in his left hand. Nadal led the set 3-1 before it was Nishikori`s medical time-out break! He got his ankle strapped and was back on court.

The third set saw Nadal`s dominance at the start. It seemed he was in a hurry to finish up the match in three sets. But that was not to be. He led the set 4-2 before Nishikori levelled it 4-4 and broke Nadal`s service to take the lead 5-4, with a back-hand cross-court shot that Rafa couldn`t return. But, a forehand wide by Nishikori cost him the next game, with Rafa taking control once again 6-5. The thriller continued in the third set tie-breaker, with Nadal sealing his quarter-final fate leading 7-6, in 70 minutes.

Nadal hit 12 aces compared to Nishikori`s 2. Both the players got one double-fault each, 36 winners each, but Nadal`s unforced errors(28) were way less that Nishikori`s (51).

The over three hours long duel between the two was a display of supreme tennis with the Japanese hanging in there till the end. The players got a standing ovation by the audience, and the match was probably one of the best in the tournament so far.

Nadal now meets Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.