Tuesday, September 21, 2021
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Nishikori grinds out another 5-set win at French Open

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Two matches. Ten sets. A total of 628 points played.

Just another Grand Slam filled with five-setters for Kei Nishikori.

The former U.S. Open finalist rallied past 23rd-seeded Karen Khachanov 4-6, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Wednesday to reach the third round of the French Open — after having also gone the distance to beat Italian qualifier Alessandro Giannessi in his opening match.

“My energy level was not great. Four hours first match and four hours today,” Nishikori said. “I just keep playing.

“My body (is) saying no but my mind is saying keep playing. … I feel like (having played) five matches already.”

Nishikori improved to 9-2 in five-set matches at Roland Garros and 26-7 in his career. He’s won 10 of his last 11 five-setters.

Khachanov was treated by a trainer in the fifth set after cutting his right middle finger by hitting his racket strings in anger.

As the match wore on, Nishikori attempted to end points quicker and mixed in different tactics like serve-and-volleying. On his first match point, he unleashed a powerful inside-out forehand that landed so close to the line that even Nishikori hesitated before realizing it was in and the match was finally over after 3 hours, 59 minutes.

“I just tried to be aggressive in the last game,” Nishikori said after breaking Khachanov at love to close it out.

Nishikori next faces Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen, who upset 11th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 for his first victory against a top-20 player.

DOUBLES DEFEAT

It’s one thing to play doubles with your little sister. Quite another to pair with someone 23 years your junior.

Just ask Venus Williams.

Williams learned that when she and 17-year-old Coco Gauff were beaten by 13th-seeded Ellen Perez and Zheng Saisai 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 in the first round.

It marked the first time that Williams had played a Grand Slam doubles match with anyone but her sister. She and Serena Williams have won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles together.

Gauff has won three WTA doubles titles with Caty McNally, including last week at Parma, Italy, where Gauff also won the singles titles to push her ranking to a career-best No. 25. She is the youngest American woman to make her debut in the Top 25 since Serena accomplished the feat back in 1998.

Also in doubles, defending singles champion Iga Swiatek teamed with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to rout the French pair of Aubane Droguet and Selena Janicijevic 6-0, 6-1.

FINNISH-SWISS SURPRISE

Representing a country where Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka generally take all of the tennis attention, Laaksonen is used to staying low profile.

Not anymore.

The 29-year-old Laaksonen has made a surprise run to the third round after producing what he called the best match of his life against Bautista Agut.

Laaksonen finished with 53 winners.

“So far they have been dropping inside the lines,” he said. “Let’s see what happens next.”

Laaksonen entered Roland Garros on a five-match losing streak and hadn’t posted a victory since October.

“I played last week in Geneva a little bit better, and here I had some tough matches in (qualifying),” Laaksonen said. “Today was just (an) amazing match for me. I was playing really aggressive and it paid off.”

Laaksonen moved from Finland to Switzerland — where his father is from — when he was 16.

Having grown up near Helsinki, he learned to play in challenging weather conditions.

“They opened the clay courts really early, sometimes like end of March, beginning of April already,” he said. “Sometimes we were playing when it was snowing a little bit, but we had always quite a long clay season actually.”



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