Nishikori outlasts Gulbis to reach first quarter-final

LONDON: Switzerland’s Roger Federer returns to France’s Adrian Mannarino in their men’s singles fourth round match on the seventh day of the 2018 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, yesterday. —AFP

LONDON: Over the past week none of Roger Federer’s opponents needed to play on a court with a retractable roof as Wimbledon has been roasting in 30 degrees Celsius temperatures. What they would probably have preferred is to play on a Centre Court with a retractable grass surface – one that can open up and swallow them whole and spare them from receiving any further punishment from the most elegant executioner in tennis.

Just too bad that option was not available to Adrian Mannarino on Monday as he was tortured and tormented during a jaw-dropping opening set when he won only one point on his own serve.

Mercifully the set flashed by in 16 breathtaking minutes as Federer whizzed into the quarter-finals with a 6-0 7-5 6-4 win. Had the Swiss not squandered four break points in the opening game of the second set, which lasted almost as long as the entire opener, Federer would probably have not needed an hour and 45 minutes to get back into the locker room.

Did he feel sorry for Mannarino? “Not really. I’m telling myself why didn’t I break the first game of the second,” a grinning Federer said as he stood three wins away from lifting the men’s trophy for a record ninth time. “I was also surprised it was that fast, that first set, especially 16 minutes. That was too fast. Shouldn’t really happen but thankfully they do for me. I probably won’t have another 6-0 set this week, so I’ll enjoy this one.”

Perhaps blinded by the male fan who sat in the corner decked in gold lame to resemble the pineapple-topped Challenge Cup, the 36-year-old Swiss fluffed his lines despite being 0-40 up on Mannarino’s serve in that first game of the second.

That reprieve, followed by further break point let-offs in the Frenchman’s next two service games, allowed Mannarino to make more of a match of it. The first set horror-show and an apparent groin injury did not stop the world number 26 from becoming the first man to earn break points against Federer at the All England Club this year.

Converting any of them, however, was mission impossible as Federer saved all four to take his streak of winning successive service games at Wimbledon to 81, dating back to last year’s semi-finals. Federer has also won 32 consecutive sets at the grasscourt major, dating back to his semi-final defeat in 2016.

Even the top seed was surprised at how easily everything appears to be falling into place as he chases a 21st Grand Slam title. “After all these years, it is surprising to be the No. 1 seed, in the top two rankings at 36. I didn’t think that was ever going to happen, to be honest,” Federer said after setting up a last eight meeting with another Frenchman, Gael Monfils, or South African eighth seed Kevin Anderson.

Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori overcame elbow trouble in the opening set to win a marathon match 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(10) 6-1 against a limping Ernests Gulbis and reach his first Wimbledon quarter-final at the tenth attempt yesterday.

Latvian qualifier Gulbis, a former world number 10 also looking for his first quarter-final at Wimbledon, gave as good as he got in a ding-dong battle over three sets before hurting his knee in the third-set tiebreak.

Japanese former world number four Nishikori, seeded 24th, was troubled by his right elbow during the first set which he lost after being broken in the fifth game. Gulbis, who won the ace count 18-7, beat Nishikori with a chip at the net to give himself two set points and took it on the first.

The next two sets were a battle of attrition with Gulbis moving his opponent from side to side and hitting crosscourt backhand winners, while Nishikori hung in on the rallies. Nishikori took the second set after going into a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak. A fine chip gave the Japanese a set point at 6-3 but Gulbis rallied with an ace followed by a neat drop shot, before Nishikori sealed it when the Latvian returned long.

The third set tiebreak was more dramatic with Gulbis going off for treatment after slipping and hurting his left knee and coming back on with it heavily bandaged. The Latvian saved two set points with some strong returns but both players made unforced errors, Gulbis missing a volley and Nishikori serving two double faults before the Japanese finally clinched it 12-10 after almost three and a half hours.

Gulbis, who had won three five-set matches to get to the fourth round including his upset over fourth seed Alexander Zverev, quickly fell 5-0 behind in the fourth set but managed to hold serve in the sixth game after saving a match point. – Reuters