March 7, 2016
Kei Nishikori may have lost his epic five-setter against Andy Murray on Sunday, but he won a place in British hearts with his brave Davis Cup comeback in Birmingham.
The king of Asian tennis contributed massively to one of the best matches seen in the UK in recent times – and undoubtedly won some new fans in the process.
A stubborn Murray took Great Britain through to face Serbia away in their July quarter-final, eventually beating Nishikori 7-5, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 after almost five hours of sparkling tennis.
But Murray admitted to feeling ‘panic’ at times, as the Japanese star put constant pressure on the Scot, who had taken time out after the Australian Open final to enjoy being a first-time father.
Andy didn’t always feel he had the answers to the searching questions being asked of his body, and wondered whether he would last the course. His determination to stay in the Davis Cup just about saw him through.
It definitely took two to make this such a memorable occasion, though, and you suspect that Nishikori’s spirit won’t have been forgotten in England come the summer.
And that means many British tennis-lovers are likely to join Nishikori’s huge Japanese following and get behind the likeable young man whenever possible during his Wimbledon campaign – unless of course he comes up against Murray again, in the latter stages!
Meanwhile Great Britain’s hopes of retaining the Davis Cup will be in jeopardy if the great Novak Djokovic feels fit and fresh enough to play for Serbia in July.
Murray only very rarely beats the world number one and confessed: ‘Obviously it would be better from our point of view if Novak didn’t play. And it will be interesting to see if they choose clay so soon after Wimbledon. I think they might choose a hard court, so close to the Olympics.’
Serbia only narrowly defeated Kazakhstan, and Djokovic had been 2-1 down in sets to Mikhail Kukushkin before he prevailed 6-7 (6), 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. That left Viktor Troicki to clean up in three sets against Aleksandr Nedovyesov in the decider.
There were thrillers elsewhere too. After Tomas Berdych had to retire while two sets behind to Philipp Kohlschreiber, it looked as though Germany might pull off a shock against the Czechs. Instead Lukas Rosol beat Alexander Zverev in straight sets to swing the tie back in favour of the Czech Republic.
Australian legend Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years in a scintillating doubles match-up with partner John Peers against the USA’s Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike. The veteran Aussie almost worked a miracle too, before he ran out of steam and the Americans won the key contest 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.
Croatia defeated Belgium in the deciding rubber of their match thanks to Borna Coric and his win over Kimmer Coppejans, Argentina edged out Poland, while France and Italy enjoyed emphatic 5-0 wins over Canada and Switzerland respectively.
So, in the remaining quarter-finals, Italy will host Argentina, the Czechs will welcome the French, and the USA have a home tie against Croatia.
We can’t wait!
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