By Pravin Char
LONDON (Reuters) – Kei Nishikori has his eye on the main prize at Wimbledon this year and, if his body holds up, the Japanese ninth seed should get past Roberto Bautista Agut on Friday and into the second week of the grasscourt grand slam.
A spot in the fourth round would match his previous best showing at the All England Club but Nishikori believes this year he can “win the whole thing” to become Asia’s first male grand slam singles champion.
The 27-year-old has defeated his third-round opponent in all four of their previous meetings, winning 6-2 6-4 in their most recent clash on the hard courts of the Miami Masters last year.
Spaniard Bautista Agut may be more at home on clay but, like his heroes David Ferrer and Juan Carlos Ferrero, never gives up without a fight and Nishikori will have to earn a victory on Court Three.
Nishikori has been in fine form in the tournament so far, though, breezing through his opening clash with Marco Cecchinato 6-2 6-2 6-0 in a baseline masterclass before dispatching dangerous Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky 6-4 6-7(7) 6-1 7-6(6).
One of Nishikori biggest battles at the championships may be with his own body, however.
Injuries – variously affecting his calf, hip and ribs – have forced him to pull out of the last five grasscourt tournaments he has contested going back to 2015, including his Wimbledon fourth round tie last year and at Halle in Germany last month.
The former world number four, however, said he was happy with his level of fitness coming into the year’s third major.
“I’m feeling very good, feeling 100 percent again,” he said earlier this week. “I hope I can stay healthy.”
So will the legion of Japanese fans who have given him a hero’s welcome at matches this week.
(Reporting by Pravin Char, editing by Nick Mulvenney)