Gritty Nishikori down Stakhovsky
LONDON: Britain’s biggest hope for a women’s champion at Wimbledon worked her way into the third round yesterday. Johanna Konta trailed early but managed to come back and hang on for a 7-6 (4), 4-6, 10-8 victory over Donna Vekic on Centre Court. “It’s a nice feeling not to have to keep going out there,” Konta said. “We were out there a long time and both of us battled incredibly hard. “Whoever was going to draw the short straw was going to be hurting.” Konta, seeded sixth, is in the third round at the All England Club for the first time in six appearances.
She reached the final at a grass-court warm-up tournament in Birmingham last month, but lost to Vekic. “I think I overall trusted my game a bit more this time,” said Konta, who is trying to become the first British woman to win the Wimbledon title since Virginia Wade in 1977. “I’m definitely here with the intention of wanting to be a part of the event for the full two weeks.” Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion who lost in the first round at Wimbledon, is dating Vekic and was at Centre Court watching the match. When the Wimbledon gates opened Wednesday morning, the race was on to get the best spot on Mount Murray.
The hill next to No. 1 Court at Wimbledon, formerly known as Henman Hill and also referred to as Murray Mound, was a coveted spot for Day 3 at the All England Club because Konta and Andy Murray were scheduled to play their second-round matches on Centre Court. Earlier, Kei Nishikori dug deep to keep his Wimbledon challenge alive as the Japanese star ground out a 6-4, 6-7 (7/9), 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) win over Ukrainian qualifier Sergiy Stakhovsky yesterday.
Despite reaching at least the quarterfinals of the other three Grand Slams, Nishikori has never been past the fourth round at Wimbledon. The world number nine was pushed hard by Stakhovsky, who famously stunned Roger Federer at Wimbledon three years. But Nishikori, 27, ignored the searing heat on Court One eventually prevailed in three hours and 15 minutes. “I knew it was going to be a tough match because Sergiy’s best surface is grass,” said Nishikori, who is finally fit after a host of injury problems.
“The last set was very tough. It was hard to get a break. I played good enough. “I felt very good on the court. I had enough energy for a fifth set as well. I’m very happy to be healthy again.” Nishikori’s cause wasn’t helped by the plague of flying ants that descended on Wimbledon throughout the match and kept smacking into his face. “There were so many, they were hitting my face all the time. It wasn’t easy but I kept my focus,” he said. Nishikori faces Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round as he aims to make the last 16 for the third time. Although he has won all four of their previous encounters, Nishikori is taking nothing for granted. “I know I have to raise my level to beat Roberto. It will be a tough one. I’ll try to recover and get some rest,” Nishikori said. “I don’t think we played on grass. He’s a good player, very solid from the baseline.
I will try to stay aggressive.” Following Konta’s victory, Murray was due to play Dustin Brown. Rafael Nadal, a two-time Wimbledon champion, will be on Centre Court after Murray against Donald Young, while fivetime champion Venus Williams is scheduled to face Qiang Wang on No. 1 Court. Other women’s winners on Wednesday include former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and eighth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova. For the men, ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori, 12th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 16thseeded Gilles Muller and 24th-seeded Sam Querrey advanced. — Agencies