By Samuel Petrequin, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — Playing two straight five-set matches ahead of his French Open quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal was certainly not the ideal preparation for Kei Nishikori.
Already exhausted before setting a foot on Court Philippe Chatrier on Tuesday, the Japanese player was handed a ruthless beating by the 11-time Roland Garros champion.
"I mean, that's for sure I played too much hours on the court this week, last week. I played too much," Nishikori said after his 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 loss.
In his four previous matches with Nadal on the slow surface, the seventh-seeded Nishikori had managed to win just one set. With the odds stacked against him, fatigue surely did not help his bid to reach the semifinals in Paris for the first time.
Before taking on the 17-time Grand Slam champion, Nishikori had played five-set matches against both Laslo Djere and Benoit Paire. His fourth-round victory over the Frenchman extended over two days, meaning he had a day less than Nadal to recover and get ready for their meeting.
"He was a little bit more tired than usual, no doubt about it," Nadal said.
Nishikori is the best deciding-set player since the beginning of the Open era in 1968. Against Paire, he won his eighth consecutive five-setter. Overall, he has a 23-6 record in five-set matches. This speaks volumes about his fighting spirit, but he now wants to learn to finish off matches quicker.
"I think I've got to keep trying, to work, to finish in straight sets," he said. "But that means I'm not, maybe, good enough, tennis-wise, and also mental. I think that's going to be the next step, because I'm always stuck in the quarterfinals in Grand Slams, and I think next goal is to be in semifinal or final."
Nishikori was runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Open and reached the semifinals twice at Flushing Meadows, but he never progressed beyond the last eight at the three other majors.