Update 2:40 pm. Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori proved he had the stamina for a drawn-out match in the humid Brisbane heat today, outlasting German Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in a three set match that lasted over two hours.
Nishikori seemed to be channelling Leyton Hewitt in a hard-fought, come-from-behind 3-6 6-1 6-4 win to steal the match from a determined Stebe who at one stage seemed to have the win in sight.
Nishikori started the match on the right note, breaking Stebe’s serve to take an early lead. But it was the German who broke back twice to steal the first set 6-3 with his dominant first serve and powerful left-handed forehand, sealing the first set win with an impressive ace.
The energetic and expansive playing style of Nishikori forced errors from Stebe who countered with a booming first serve and deep, powerful baseline forehand and backhand strokes. Both players covered the court well and produced some long, exciting rallies for the large crowd at Court 2.
While the first set went to Stebe the second set was most definitely Nishikori’s who turned the match around with an impressive 6-1 second-set fightback. Nishikori took advantage of some unforced errors from Stebe and managed to shake his poor first serve percentage to cruise through the second set.
With one set apiece neither men looked like slowing down despite the humid weather. In a match that had swung back and forth it looked like Stebe had the third set all wrapped up, pulling out some huge backhand and forehand winners and his serve was back on song.
But it was at 4-1 down that Nishikori lifted and stormed back into the match winning five-straight games to snatch both the set and the match from Stebe.
Nishikori will benefit from the experience of today’s match when he takes on veteran player and crowd favourite Marcos Baghdatis who defeated American Ryan Harrison 7-6(7) 6-4. Nishikori said he had watched Baghdatis play earlier in the tournament and was expecting a solid performance from the man he acknowledges as “always a good player”.
When asked how he fared in the heat Nishikori said he was happy they had been playing under the erected shade covers otherwise temperatures on the court would have been much higher. Playing against a consistent player like Baghdatis, Nishikori said he hopes he can avoid the hot sun once again.
In other men’s first-round matches completed today, Tatsuma Ito knocked out Australian wildcard Ben Mitchell in straight sets, 6-4 6-2, and Jarkko Nieminen withstood an early challenge from American qualifier Jesse Levine to salute 7-6(4) 6-2.
Ito will have a battle ahead of him in the next round when he plays Queenslander and eighth seed Bernard Tomic, while Nieminen will face sixth seed Radek Stepanek who ousted rising Australian Matt Ebden.