When a Tennis Match Goes Five Sets, Count on Kei Nishikori

PARIS — Kei Nishikori is not the best tennis player in the world, and he has never won a Grand Slam title. But he holds a remarkable distinction: He is one of the best players of the Open era in matches that go the distance, and he seems to be getting better at it, too.

After he beat Benoît Paire, 6-2, 6-7 (8), 6-2, 6-7 (8), 7-5, in their fourth-round match at the French Open on Monday, Nishikori improved to 23-6 in five-set matches. That is the third-best winning percentage in the Open era, behind Bjorn Borg (27-6, .818) and Johan Kriek (18-4, .818), according to the ATP.

Including men’s best-of-three matches, though, Nishikori has the best career winning percentage in those that go the distance: .743. Novak Djokovic is second at .742, John McEnroe third at .734 and Borg fourth at .731.

“I just try to hang in there and try to focus every point,” Nishikori, 29, said.

Nishikori has won his last eight five-set matches since he lost to Roger Federer in the fourth round of the 2017 Australian Open.

At the French Open, he is particularly dangerous when a match goes long. Including his third-round victory over Laslo Djere, he is 11-1 in five-set matches at Roland Garros, and since 2017, he is 5-0 in them.

Part of the record is a positive one, and part of it is a result of Nishikori’s not putting opponents away when he should. He felt that was the case Monday, when he lost the fourth-set tiebreaker.

“I had match point,” he said, “and I could win in four sets, but somehow I lost the set. Yeah, mentally not easy after that tiebreak.”

Before the tournament began, Nishikori said he might try to do an underhanded serve to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the time his coach, Michael Chang, did it against Ivan Lendl at Roland Garros. But with all the five-setters, the opportunity has not come up.

“If I have an easy score, yes, I might try,” he said.

An easy score is not likely against his next opponent. Nishikori plays No. 2 Rafael Nadal in a quarterfinal on Tuesday.

Source: Read Full Article