London: Kei Nishikori suffered fresh Wimbledon misery as the Japanese star crashed out on Friday, while Victoria Azarenka stepped up her bid to become the first mother to win the All England Club title for 37 years. Former US Open finalist Nishikori had hoped to finally advance past the fourth round at Wimbledon after years of underachievement. But the world number nine didn’t even reach the last 16 as he was over-powered 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-3 by Spanish 18th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
Nishikori’s third round exit means Wimbledon remains the only Grand Slam he has failed to make the quarterfinals. It was the 27-year-old’s earliest departure from a major since his first round defeat against Benoit Paire at the 2015 US Open. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal slugged his way into the Last 16 with a bruising dismissal of Russian 30th seed Karen Khachanov. Nadal’s 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win equalled the Spaniard’s personal record of 28 successive sets won at Grand Slams, a blistering streak dating back to this year’s Australian Open final.
For the first time in 20 years, there were four British men and women through to the last 32. But, with former England captain David Beckham watching from the Royal Box, Heather Watson was unable to maintain Britain’s unexpectedly strong showing as Azarenka edged past the world number 102 with a gritty 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory. Competing in her first Grand Slam since taking a year off to have her first child — son Leo — in December, former world number one Azarenka was caught out as Watson made a fast start to her attempt to reach the last 16 for the first time.
But after a sloppy first set, the two-time Australian Open champion stepped on the gas to keep alive her attempt to emulate Evonne Goolagong, who was the last Wimbledon mum to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in 1980. Only Goolagong, Margaret Court and Kim Clijsters have won a Grand Slam singles title after having a child. Azarenka, who reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2011 and 2012, will play world number two Simona Halep or Peng Shuai for a place in the quarterfinals.
“The whole match I was a little bit on the back foot. The second set I started to step in a little bit more. I was very happy that I was able to find other ways to win,” Azarenka said. Watson’s defeat came just hours after compatriot Aljaz Bedene slumped to a 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 6-4 against 16th seed Gilles Muller in the men’s tournament.