Australian Open fans were treated to an incredible battle which saw Rafael Nadal withstand a tough test by a strong swinging Nishikori. Nadal eventually prevailed in straight sets, closing out the match 7-6, 7-5, 7-6. Early on in the first few games of the match, as Nadal ran ahead with a quick break it appeared as though it was going to be business as usual for the Spaniard, who has been playing lights out tennis and holding serve with little trouble. Nishikori however broke back relatively quickly and proceeded to give Nadal his first real test in this year’s Australian Open.
The match was full of first class hitting as the two players stood and exchanged massive blows from the baseline. Nishikori, who towards the beginning of the first set had not appeared as though he were up for the challenge, moved exceptionally and was unbelievably solid from both wings as the first set headed towards a tie-breaker.
Nadal had not yet been tested in this years Australian Open, however as the first set headed toward crunch time it was apparent that Nishikori intended to make the Spaniard earn every game in the fourth round battle. During the tie-breaker, the experience and shot quality of Nadal prevailed as he steadily closed out the first set, winning the tie-breaker 7-3. The Spaniard looked to be welcoming his first true challenge of this years Australian Open.
The second set saw more huge hitting and punishing rallies from the two competitors, but early on it became clear that the left hand of Nadal was in need of treatment. A close up camera shot of the trainer working on the hitting hand of the game’s top player, showed that a relatively nasty blister had opened up on the palm, requiring a precarious tape job around Nadal’s left hand. During the first couple of game after the medical attention, there appeared a moment of uncertainty as to how the blister would affect the forehand.
After a handful of uncharacteristic errors immediately following the medical attention received for the hitting hand, Nadal appeared to slightly adjust his play to withstand the Nishikori barrage while feeling out the injury. The world No. 1 looked to take a couple of steps back, relying on his legs along with his defensive slice to stay with the big hitting Japanese man as he’d lost the rhythm on his forehand.
For just a moment, the Spaniard’s Australian Open future looked on the line, with onlookers wondering just how bad the palm blister was and whether it may affect future rounds should he prevail against Nishikori. Fans and viewers seemed to wonder whether Nadal could withstand the strong Nishikori’s attack with a damaged hand. That question was quickly answered by Nadal, as he regained his form after withstanding a heavy two-game barrage by Nishkori. the Spaniard turned things around in the second set and closed it out 7-5 in his usual flare and style. The belief seemed to visibly wane as Nishikori headed to the sidelines and looked to be contemplating the odds of winning the next three sets against the Spaniard who looked to have found his top form.
Nishikori proved himself to be a first class competitor however, as he entered the third set staring his Australian Open future in the face. Though the statistics would suggest that Nishikori’s chances were slim to none agains the Spaniard who led 2-0 and looked to be in rhythm, the Japanese man showed no defeat. Nishikori stood toe-to-toe again with the world No. 1 and eventually drove the third set into tie-breaker.
The final tie-breaker mirrored the first with the Spaniard running away with it 7-3, and Nadal, along with everyone else, now awaits his quarterfinal match against Grigor Dimitrov.
Although the Japanese challenger played perhaps some of the best tennis he possessed, the seasoned Australian Open veteran, Rafael Nadal, withstood the strong Nishikori play to close out the third set and accordingly the match. The Spaniards strong finish means the young Dimitrov will have his hands full if he intends to overcome the world No. 1.
By Daniel Worku