By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Japan’s Kei Nishikori played down a problem with his right wrist after outlasting Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5 2-6 6-3 6-4 to move into the last 16 of the Australian Open on Friday.
The seventh seed had some trouble with the joint in the early part of the match when his Spanish opponent mounted his sternest challenge but by the end of the two hour, 12 minute encounter, was playing at his free-flowing best.
“It was little bit sore in the beginning, but after the treatment it was fine. I’m sure it’s going to be okay,” he said.
“It was a really tough match. There were many long rallies. I have to give a lot of credit to him, because he was hitting really hard. I thought he was going to hit more spin, but he was hitting a lot of flat balls and it was going in. It was tough to play.”
The 26-year-old served out to love for victory, a fierce forehand winner to the left, a sumptuous top-spin forehand winner to the right and an ace giving him three-match points, the first of which he converted when Garcia-Lopez netted.
Into the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the fifth straight year, Nishikori will next have a chance to avenge his loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in an epic five-setter in the quarter-finals of last year’s French Open.
“We played last year in French and I almost came back, but he raised his level in the fifth,” recalled the former U.S. Open finalist.
“It was really tough loss for me, so I hope I can revenge here. You know, I have been playing good and a lot of confidence coming up, so it’s gonna be a good match.”
Ninth seed Tsonga followed Nishikori onto Margaret Court Arena and needed two tiebreaks to get past qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4 7-6(7) 7-6(4) in an all-French third round clash.
Tsonga, an Australian Open finalist in 2008, danced a jig on court after pounding 23 aces to subdue his 24-year-old opponent, who made 46 unforced errors and ceded the match when he netted a backhand return.
“It’s never easy to play against a guy you like, it’s never easy to find the motivation but I have to do it,” said 30-year-old Tsonga.
“I feel really good, a few times ago I was really fat but I’m feeling good and hopefully I can have a really good tournament.”
Tsonga was also looking forward to the re-match with Nishikori.
“It’s gonna be a really tough match, we’ve played a few times and it’s always tight,” he added.
“It’s going to be a different type of game.”
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)