The eighth seed Kei Nishikori's season has been mediocre, and some parts of his season have seen him being injured. Nonetheless, the 2014 US Open finalist is a dark horse at the French Open. Hardly anyone is speaking about him as a potential contender for the title. All of the attention has been on Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. Nonetheless, Nishikori has moved his way through the draw quietly, as he did so today on Court Suzanne Lenglen. It was a four-set clash with Fernando Verdasco, which was another tough test, that Nishikori passed in his quest to win a maiden Grand Slam singles title.
Verdasco crushes Nishikori in the opening set
The 33-year-old Spaniard had already dispatched two seeds on his way to the fourth round for the sixth time in his career. Alexander Zverev and Pablo Cuevas felt the force of Verdasco, and it seemed as though that Nishikori would face a similar fate.
The former world number seven won his opening service game with ease. Furthermore, Verdasco was looking to get an early break on Nishikori's serve, and the Spaniard did so with the Japanese star committing unforced errors, which handed Verdasco an early 2-0 lead.
The world number 36 consolidated the break with ease with a service winner out wide. Nishikori seemed sluggish in the early stages of the match as he overcame Hyeon Chung in a five-set thriller on Court 1 which had to be finished yesterday, due to rain intervening on Saturday. Verdasco got off to a dream start with Nishikori continuing to spray unforced errors, and the Spaniard led 4-0 in the early going.
The eighth seed had the chance to retrieve one of the breaks back-back Verdasco saved it in style with a strong first serve down the middle, finishing off the point with a forehand winner down the line. The Spaniard held serve again and extended his lead to 5-0. The first set was seemingly done and dusted for Nishikori as he trailed 0-40 on his service game. Verdasco claimed the opening set 6-0 in 26 minutes, without doing anything spectacular with Nishikori's wild forehand sailing long.
Nishikori begins to improve and win the second set
The former world number four began to improve his tennis, and immediately he broke Verdasco's serve to love in the opening service game of the second set. However, Nishikori handed the break straight back to Verdasco as he continued to commit unforced errors.
The Spaniard held to love with an ace out wide to take a 2-1 lead. Once again, Nishikori's serve was under severe scrutiny as he was at 30-30. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old held onto his serve to level the second set at 2-2. Verdasco continued to apply the scoreboard pressure on Nishikori by holding to love once again.
Nishikori's led 40-15 on his own serve in the next game but the Spaniard continued to step into the court to force Nishikori firmly behind the baseline. Verdasco won the next three points and created a break point in the process by virtue of Nishikori serving out wide but his forehand sailed into the net. The eighth seed managed to save it in a long baseline rally, with Verdasco committing an error. The break point save was crucial as Nishikori eventually held onto his serve with an ace down the T and a half-volley winner at the net.
For the third successive game, Verdasco held to love on his serve but the eighth seed managed to keep in touch with the 36th ranked player by holding onto his serve. However, out of nowhere, Nishikori broke the Spaniard's serve, which allowed him to serve for the second set.
Verdasco staved off the first set point with a forehand winner down the line with the eighth seed stuck behind the baseline. Nonetheless, the 2014 US Open finalist claimed the second set with a good serve down the middle, forcing the error from Verdasco, taking it 6-4.
Nishikori takes two sets to love to lead in the third set
Both players held their own service games in the third set of the match. However, Nishikori gained the first break in the third set as Verdasco committed a double fault, and the eighth seed converted the break with a forehand winner down the line, which was amazing as he was scrambling to get it.
The Japanese star consolidated the break to take a 3-1 lead in the match, and the Spaniard held onto his next service game. Moreover, Verdasco was threatening on the 2014 US Open finalist's
serve building two break points at 15-40. The Spaniard gained the break point with a forehand trickling over the net. Nishikori fended off the first break point but he handed the break back to Verdasco as he committed a forehand unforced error.
The seventh game of the third set was the most crucial game of the match, as the pendulum swung once more. Nishikori came out on a top in a remarkable 21-shot rally, showcasing outstanding defence, and he created his fourth break point of the game with a backhand crosscourt passing winner down the line. The Japanese star converted the fifth break point with Verdasco's backhand sailing out wide in a game that lasted almost ten minutes.
Nishikori was in the ascendancy now as he was 0-30 on his own serve but he won the next four consecutive points with winners and consolidated the break with a smash volley winner to lead 5-3. The lefty staved off a set point in his next service game, and he won his last game of the match with a forehand winner down the line.
The former world number four claimed the third set with a forehand winner down the line, clinching the set by 6-4 once more.
Nishikori cruises in the fourth set to book his place in the quarterfinals
The momentum was finally with Nishikori as the 2014 US Open runner-up broke Verdasco's serve in the opening game of the match with some fine returning. Nevertheless, the eighth seed was 0-40 down in his next service game but he staved off all three break points with Verdasco committing more errors. The Japanese star's forehand continued to pepper the court, and his backhand wrongfooted the Spaniard. Nishikori consolidated the break as the Spaniard's powerful forehand committed another unforced error.
It seemed as though that the match was over as Nishikori broke Verdasco's serve once again to lead 3-0. The eighth seed was mixing up the play by throwing in a drop shot, and he consolidated the double break with a strong forehand dragging the Spaniard out wide.
Nishikori had his eyes set on a place in the quarterfinals, and he claimed the triple break advantage as the former world number seven committed a double fault.
The Japanese player served out for the match to love, booking his place in the quarterfinals of the French Open for the second time in three years, setting up a blockbuster clash with the world number one Andy Murray, a rematch of their US Open quarterfinal encounter which Nishikori came out on top in five sets.
By the numbers
Verdasco produced 28 winners in the match, in contrast to Nishikori, who produced 34 winners in the match. The eighth seed committed 46 unforced errors, whilst Verdasco committed 43. The former world number four broke the Spaniard's serve seven times out of 17, whilst the Spaniard broke the former world number four's serve, five times out of 13.