Melbourne: Japanese eighth seed Kei Nishikori blew a two-set lead against veteran Ivo Karlovic and was within a whisker of second-round elimination in the Australian Open on Thursday before winning a pulsating final set tiebreak.
Big-serving Karlovic, 39, stood on the brink of becoming the oldest man into the third round since 44-year-old Aussie great Ken Rosewall in 1978 before Nishikori hauled himself back into contention by saving three break points at 4-4 in the final set.
Asia's top-ranked men's player needed an energy-sapping 3hr 48min to overcome the 6ft 11in (2.11m) Croat 6-3, 7-6 (8/6), 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (10/7) in humid conditions.
"It was a tough match which could have gone both ways. He almost had it for sure," said Nishikori, a three-time quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, after collapsing to his knees in relief cheered on by a big Japanese contingent on Margaret Court Arena.
Nishikori was again in trouble when 6-7 in the final set 10-point tie-break facing two massive Karlovic serves before winning the next three points to edge over the finish line.
"I focused well on the last points, I'm very happy to win today," said Nishikori, who lost the US Open final in 2014 – his best performance in a Slam to date.
"I think this match will help my confidence. We both played great tennis – of course he served really well."
Told the Croat had smashed an astonishing 59 aces past him during the match, Nishikori looked incredulous.
"That is almost how many aces I hit in one year," he laughed.
"It's frustrating if you can't get the serve. I think I focused well."
Nishikori, who is 10 years younger than Karlovic, has endured two epic scraps this week so far at Melbourne Park.
He had to come from two sets down in the first round to survive a dramatic match against a Polish qualifier Kamil Majchrzak who eventually retired with cramp in the final set.
The eighth seed next faces either Philipp Kohlschreiber or Joao Sousa for a place in the last-16.
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Updated Date: Jan 17, 2019 11:17:33 IST