Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Japanese teen makes idol Nadal sweat

FIERCE Unseeded Kei Nishikori, who had never played a singles tournament on grass before arriving at Queen's this year, put up a valiant fight against the Spanish slugger

AFP , LONDON

Japan's Kei Nishikori returns the ball to Spain's Rafael Nadal in London on Thursday. Nadal won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

PHOTO: EPA

Rafael Nadal had to dig deep before defeating Japan's Kei Nishikori to reach the quarter-finals at Queen's Club on Thursday.

Nadal had torn Roger Federer to shreds in Paris last weekend, but Nishikori, an unseeded teenager who turned pro just a year ago, pushed the French Open champion all the way here.

The Spanish first seed eventually found enough momentum to come through 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, and now plays Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic in the last eight.

Nishikori, 18, had never played a singles tournament on grass before arriving at Queen’s this year and he admitted that the chance to play his idol was a dream come true.

So it would have been no disgrace if the teenager had been struck by stage-fright in the biggest match of his career, but he gave as good as he got.

A pair of fierce leaping forehands must have impressed a slugger like Nadal and the world No. 2 had to raise his game to take control of the first set.

There was an extra zip on his returns as he broke for a 4-3 lead and closed out the set.

Nishikori showed no signs of giving in and earned three break points in the second game of the second set. Nadal crushed those opportunities, but Nishikori was gaining in belief.

He kept plugging away with some powerful groundstrokes and never let Nadal settle. A beak duly arrived in the eighth game, giving him the chance to serve for the set.

It was a massive test of Nishikori’s nerve and he passed with honors to set up a final set decider.

But Nadal is a fierce competitor regardless of the occasion.

He just redoubled his efforts again and broke to go 3-1 up after sprinting across court to convert a drop shot. Finally Nadal had broken Nishikori and he was able to serve out the match.

Karlovic, the eighth seed, warmed up for his clash with Nadal by over-powering Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in a 6-3, 7-5 win.

Lleyton Hewitt remains on course for a record fifth Queen’s title after the Australian’s 6-4, 6-4 win over Paul-Henri Mathieu, the French seventh seed.

Andy Murray played through the pain barrier to clinch a gutsy 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 victory over Ernests Gulbis.

Murray needed treatment for thumb, thigh and neck injuries as he struggled to stay on his feet on a treacherous grass-court made extra slick by rain throughout the match.

But the British No. 1 proved a point to the critics who claim he is too quick to let injuries affect him by fighting back from a set down to earn a last eight showdown with reigning champion Andy Roddick.

Roddick, like Hewitt chasing a fifth Queen’s title, got a lucky break as Mardy Fish withdrew after just one set of their match.

The reigning Queen’s champion had just taken the first set on a tie-break when Fish, who fell awkwardly while trying to make a diving volley late in the set, was forced to pull out with a foot injury.

■ GERRY WEBER OPEN


AFP, HALLE, GERMANY

World No. 1 Roger Federer again needed just over an hour to see off his opponent in straight sets at the Halle ATP tournament on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals.

Having won Wednesday’s first-round match against Germany’s Michael Berrer in just 61 minutes, the Swiss master needed only eight minutes more to seal a 7-5, 6-3 win and ease past qualifier Jan Vacek from the Czech Republic.

Federer lost Sunday’s Roland Garros final to clay-court king Rafael Nadal and traditionally plays at Halle to help him prepare for Wimbledon as he bids to win his sixth consecutive title in south-west London later this month.

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