‘No excuses’: Serial quitter exposed
On Wednesday night Australian tennis fans were given a taste of what the rest of the world has been enduring for much of Kei Nishikori's career - his body letting him down in a big match.
The Japanese star was hailed by some for his incredible fight as he backed up from three five-set matches earlier in the tournament to take on world number one Novak Djokovic, before succumbing to an apparent leg injury after falling behind 6-1 4-1.
While there's no doubt all that extra time on court took its toll, others have frustratedly pointed the finger at the world number nine, saying he had no one to blame but himself for not finishing off the likes 176th-ranked Kamil Majchrzak more efficiently and noting his form as one of the most regular retirees on tour.
"He's retiring," Jim Courier said in commentary for Channel Nine.
"It's not unexpected, it's just disappointing for everyone in the arena."
Kei Nishikori spent 14 hours 39 seconds on court in total, with two going to final set tiebreaks and a 5 hour 5 minute match in his last round against Pablo Carreno. Really, this seems like a normal physical reaction.— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) January 23, 2019
After leaving fans who forked out big money for the night session at Rod Laver Arena fuming, Nishikori attempted to explain his withdrawal.
"Before the match, I was okay," Nishikori said. "Of course, I wasn't, like, fresh, fresh. I thought I was going to be okay. After third game or fourth game when I was serving, I felt pretty heavy to my right leg. After that I couldn't really bend my knees and couldn't jump up. Yeah, I decided to stop.
18th career retirement for Nishikori,5th in a Slam, 1st in Australia.— enrico maria riva (@enricomariariva) January 23, 2019
"I'm sure it comes from my past matches, especially last match. I was moving a lot, waste too much energy. Could be from that and also, yeah, something happen today during the match.
so tired of Nishikori getting a free pass for having SUCH A TOUGH ROAD to the quarters. No excuse going to five with Polish qualifier. Five-setter against Karlovic wasn’t physical. Played one epic against PCB (also should never have needed five against PCB) and that’s it.— Ricky Dimon (@Dimonator) January 23, 2019
"I was trying. Like I said, after couple games, I couldn't really move, couldn't hit my serve well. Yeah, I don't think even if it's Novak, I couldn't beat anybody with my one leg. It was just too tough."
Kei Nishikori doesn't have the durability to complete two weeks at a Grand Slam. His body always lets him down. Too many long matches. Poor body language. And coming up against Novak Djokovic is a complete mismatch. The Serbian just does everything better #AusOpen— Uche Amako (@UcheAmako) January 23, 2019
DJOKER MAN TO BEAT AGAIN
The early night gave Djokovic's chances of winning the tournament a massive boost.
The Serb has six titles at Melbourne Park, equal to Roger Federer's haul and one short of Serena Williams' Open-era record of seven titles, but most significant is one statistic.
Every time he's reached the last four, he's lifted the trophy. And courtesy of Nishikori's withdrawal in their quarterfinal, he's well rested for another championship assault.
"It feels great," Djokovic said.
"This has been my most successful grand slam throughout my career, the first one that I won back in 2008.
"Over the past 10 years, I've had plenty of success here.
"Obviously that has helped to kickstart the season in a great fashion, obviously served as a great confidence boost for what was coming up.
"That's one of the reasons why I think I always try to push myself really to focus here and to play as best as I can so I can really start off the season well.
"Australia has been really kind to me throughout my career, I can say."
Djokovic's next challenge is Lucas Pouille, the 28th seed who will be appearing in his first major semi-final.
After that lurks either world No.2 Rafael Nadal or another insurgent force, Greek 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Given their pedigree, most are preparing for a Djokovic-Nadal clash on Sunday; a resumption of the most played match in the Open-era.
The pair have met 52 times, with the Serbian edging their duels 27-25. It would also be their first clash in Australia since their 2012 final epic, a five-set, almost six-hour clash won by Djokovic.
Not that Djokovic was in the mood to contemplate that prospect just yet. "Right now it's my press conference, so it will be nice to talk about me more than Nadal. If you want to talk about our possible encounter, we talk about that if we both win semis," he said.
"(Pouille) has won against some top players. Of course Milos (Raonic), (Borna) Coric in the last round.
"With the quality of the tennis that he possesses, he deserves to be definitely at the top 15, maybe top 10 of the world. He's got that quality and potential, no question about it.
"We both, I'm sure, want to get to the finals. Hopefully we can both be fresh and fit and put on the great show."
- with AAP