By Ricky Dimon
An improbable comeback was staged at the BNP Paribas Open on Monday and it was engineered by perhaps the most unlikely of players. Yoshihito Nishioka, who needed a lucky-loser spot just to get into the main draw, trailed Tomas Berdych 6-1, 5-2 before somehow recovering to pull off a 1-6, 7-6(5), 6-4 upset in a third-round contest that lasted two hours and 21 minutes.
Berdych’s 5-2 lead in the second set actually consisted of two breaks, but he failed to serve out the match at 5-2, squandered one match point with Nishioka serving at 5-3, and got broken again at 5-4. Just a single mini-break for Nishioka, which came at 5-5, was enough for him to take the ensuing tiebreaker.
The world No. 70 Japan gave back a break at 1-0 in the third set but broke again for 2-1 and served things out the rest of the way. A love hold at 5-4 clinched victory in style.
“I was down 1-6, 2-5; I couldn’t figure out how [to] beat Berdych,” Nishioka explained. “I tried to find a way, and then I think he give me a little bit [of a chance]. I just [kept] trying to (win) every point. (It) is wonderful coming back.
“I knew he (was) gonna be nervous,” he added when asked if he was surprised that Berdych had issues closing out the match. “I knew it.”
Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem had no such problems against underdog opponents on Monday afternoon.
Wawrinka cruised past Philipp Kohlschreiber 7-5, 6-3 in only one hour and 17 minutes to set up a fourth-round meeting with Nishioka. The third-ranked Swiss fired seven aces while double-faulting only once and he did not face a single break point.
“It was a really good match,” Wawrinka assured. “I’m very happy. (The) first set was not easy, for sure, but in general I’m happy with my game. I was serving well. I think I’m moving better and better. It’s all positive so far.”
Thiem took care of Mischa Zverev 6-1, 6-4 in a mere 58 minutes. Zverev’s serve-and-volley tactics did nothing to trouble his opponent on a relatively slow hard court and the veteran German was also hopeless in the return game. Thiem, who lost to Zverev in the doubles first round, dropped only eight points in nine service games. He struck seven aces without double-faulting and served at 71 percent.
“He’s a very tricky opponent, but I had a very good start,” the eighth seed said of Zverev. “I returned very well–actually, probably better than I expected. So it was very, very good performance from the first to the last point.”
Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.