Kei Nishikori ultimately triumphed over Marinko Matosevic, 6-3 5-7 6-2 4-6 6-2, in a three-and-a-half hour duel in the scorching heat on Tuesday.
Prior to the match getting underway, an Aussie fan squad took it upon themselves to encourage everyone in the stands to rise and sing a spine-chilling “We are Australian” but by the end of the match, the Japanese seemed to have most of the crowd’s support.
The Australian spent much of the match preoccupied by various distractions, his arm often outstretched towards his coach as though trying to communicate something, and he had much to say about the chair umpire after the match. Among the disputes was chair umpire Marija Cicak’s decision to penalize Matosevic a point for a second time violation.
“That was bullsh–t. When have you seen that, a guy’s taking his bottle to the back of the court. He can do it, I’ll take a drink,” Matosevic said of Nishikori taking a sip from his water bottle at the back of the court in between points and him taking it upon himself to do the same.
“The other thing is, I shouldn’t have gotten the first time warning either for equipment. My hat went loose. The thing broke at the back. I went to change it and she’s like, ‘I’m going to give you a time violation’. I’m like, ‘okay’. The next one was a really important game. Just kept on going back and forth. He went to get a drink, so I went to get a drink. She calls a point penalty. Nothing I can do.”
His coach, ex-player Mark Woodforde, also copped some flak.
“I wanted my coach to vocally support me, but he wouldn’t.
“I’ve spoken (to him) about it before, but I don’t know… (I’m) not disappointed in the lack of support. Some players need verbal support, some don’t. I’m a player that likes it and needs it and wants it. So if my coach is just going to sit there and clap, I expect more.”
While Matosevic channelled this fight into his game, pushing the match to a suspenseful fifth set, the Australian was not obtaining enough height on his groundstrokes and missed many passing shots.
Nishikori grew very comfortable at the baseline and Matosevic may have benefited from mixing in the odd drop shot or serve and volley play to throw his opponent out of his usual zone at the baseline and do more damage to the world No. 17.
Matosevic managed three breaks as the match wore on and dedicated spectators, who remained present despite the heat, clapped and cheered in respect of the two disciplined athletes sticking it out in the severe conditions.
Nishikori reflected on how hot the temperature had felt down on the show court.
”It was not easy conditions with the heat and with the wind. It’s always tough to play the first round. You get tight and, you know, anything can happen. But I’m happy to (have) won the fifth set,” Nishikori said.
Nishikori will play unseeded Serbian Dusan Lajovic in the second round on Thursday, which is forecast to be yet another Melbourne scorcher.
Originally published at Tennis Panorama News.