Gabriel Diallo blows on his hand while waiting to return serve.

Photo : Gyles Dias

Kei Nishikori overcame Canadian Gabriel Diallo 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 1-6, 6-4 in 4 hours and 22 minutes to advance to the second round of the French Open in Paris on Sunday.

In a showdown that went the distance, the Japanese veteran’s precise groundstrokes and big match experience lifted him past the 22-year-old from Montreal.

The win marks the first for Nishikori since August of last season; he struck 45 winners and broke serve six times in the closely contested match.

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However, it was initially the Canadian who was imposing his game in the early stages of the first-round encounter.

Diallo earned the first break of serve in the match, taking a 4-1 opening set lead as he kept his Japanese competitor off balance with heavy groundstrokes and his potent serve.

Trailing 5-2 in the first, Nishikori dug in and began his comeback. He broke Diallo to get within a game and then saved a pair of set points before holding serve for 5-all.

Another loose service game from the Montreal native proved costly as the 34-year-old from Japan sealed the opener 7-5 in 61 minutes.

The second set featured the players opening with consecutive breaks of serve before getting on even terms.

At the business end of the second, Nishikori staved off a set point chance held by the Canadian before holding serve for 5-all.

The Japanese former world number four then gained the upper hand in a tiebreak, winning the first four points en route to a 7-6(3) second set in 71 minutes.

Facing a daunting two sets to love deficit, a turn of momentum came midway through the third for the Montrealer.

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With Diallo staring down two break points at 2-3, 15-40, the Montreal native locked in for a crucial hold of serve, escaping the pivotal game.

With his newfound confidence, the 22-year-old elevated his play, reeling off four consecutive games to capture the set in 39 minutes.

The run of pressure and high-level tennis carried over into the fourth, as the Montrealer controlled play with his booming serve and steady groundstrokes.

Applying more aggression from the baseline, he broke twice, coasting to a 6-1 score-line in just 39 minutes and tying the match at two sets all.

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Nishikori took a medical timeout ahead of the fifth set, and it paid dividends as he regained his consistency.

The three-time French Open quarterfinalist kept the Canadian at bay with his counterpunching skills from the baseline, and savvy net play.

At 5-6, Diallo finally flinched under pressure, misfiring a forehand long to seal the victory for the 34-year-old from Japan.

It was Nishikori’s first appearance at a Grand Slam since the 2021 US Open and 103th career match win at a major.

Meanwhile, it’s Diallo’s first-ever main draw loss at a Grand Slam. He successfully advanced through Roland-Garros qualifying for the first time in his career with three consecutive wins.