Kei Nishikori Gets through Tough Opener at French Open with 5-set Victory over Canadian Qualifier; Marks 1st Appearance at Roland Garros in 3 Years

Kei Nishikori returns a shot during his first-round match at the French Open against Canada’s Gabriel Diallo on Sunday

PARIS — Kei Nishikori marked his return to Roland Garros by winning an epic first-round duel at the French Open, defeating qualifier Gabriel Diallo of Canada 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-5 in Paris on Sunday.

Nishikori showed his tenacious style has not changed even though he is now 34 and returning to the Grand Slam f tournament for the first time in three years from an injury layoff.

“In the end, I fought through with my mind really,” Nishikori said after 4-hour 22-minute battle against his 22-year-old opponent.

After taking the first two sets, Nishikori dropped the following two as he was unable to cope with Diallo’s powerful shots. “To be honest, I rather wanted to avoid going to [a fifth set],” Nishikori said.

Before the fifth set, Nishikori received massage on his lower back. But he returned to the court and showed how he never gives up even when he looks physically battered.

Instead of staying back, Nishikori bravely charged inside the baseline and moved his opponent to both sides to force errors. When he secured the victory, a relieved look came to his face.

In recent years, Nishikori has been dealing with a left knee injury and other ailments. Sunday’s match was his first since a loss in March, and his first on clay this season.

“I’m glad because my tennis is somehow coming back,” he said during a press conference in the early hours on Monday.

Meanwhile, Shintaro Mochizuki, who made the main draw through qualifying, lost a tough five-setter to the eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.