Sixth seed Kei Nishikori withstood a blistering early assault, then saved five match points before battling past Frenchman Gael Monfils 4-6 6-3 7-6(3) in a bruising quarter-final at the Miami Open on Thursday.
Japanese Nishikori appeared to have the match in control when leading 4-2 in the final set but his usually reliable forehand repeatedly let him down as he went on to trail 4-5 and 0-40 on serve before mounting a gutsy fightback.
Nishikori saved four match points in that 10th game, and a fifth in the 12th, before racing into a 6-3 lead in the tiebreak as Monfils made a string of unforced errors, the Japanese finally sealing the win with a forehand crosscourt winner.
“When I was down 4-5 and 0-40, I thought I almost gave up the match,” Nishikori, 26, told ESPN in a courtside interview after an epic encounter between two of the most athletic players on the ATP World Tour that lasted two-and-a-half hours .
“But I tried to play one point at a time and tried to focus on what I had to do, especially my serve. In the tiebreak, I just tried to focus again and fight harder.”
Nishikori, who also reached the last four in Miami two years ago, was left reeling in the opening set as the 16th-seeded Monfils played high-risk, aggressive tennis right from the start, highlighted by an explosive service game.
“I was a little bit surprised how he played, especially the first couple of games,” said Nishikori, who beat the Frenchman in their only previous meeting in 2014.
“I was waiting for a little bit more long rallies and I wasn’t expecting to play that fast so I had to make some adjustment.”
Nishikori will next face either big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic or Australian Nick Kyrgios who were scheduled to play their quarter-final later on Thursday.