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Tennis: Nishikori aims to gatecrash Nadal birthday party

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Japan's Kei Nishikori aims to gatecrash seven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal's 27th birthday party on Monday and write another chapter in Grand Slam history.

The 23-year-old Nishikori is already the first Japanese man to make the last 16 at Roland Garros since Fumiteru Nakano in 1938.

Victory on Monday would put him into a second career Grand Slam quarter-final after having reached the last eight at the Australian Open in 2012.

But the odds are stacked against the Florida-based world number 15.

Nadal is bidding to become the only man to win the same Grand Slam title on eight occasions, having won 55 of his 56 matches in Paris and also having defeated Nishikori four times out of four.

"I almost hear every tournament, if I do well, that I make history, but for me it's almost normal to be here," said Nishikori.

Nadal has yet to peak at this tournament, needing to recover from first set deficits in the opening two rounds for the first time in his Roland Garros career.

He has also been unsettled, lashing out at the tournament schedulers in midweek who he branded "a joke".

But when the sunny, dry conditions replaced the cold and wet of the first week on Saturday, the Spaniard was transformed, seeing off colourful Italian Fabio Fognini in straight sets to reach the fourth round.

Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam title winner, has won his last three meetings with Nishikori in straight sets after the Japanese player had managed to take a set in their first clash at Queen's Club in London in 2008.

The champion admits he has great respect for Nishikori who, like him, has battled a series of injuries in recent years.

Nadal missed seven months with knee trouble before returning in February, since when he has captured six titles in eight finals.

Nishikori, who showed his love for the big stage by beating Roger Federer in Madrid on the eve of Roland Garros, was sidelined from August 2009 to April 2010 to undergo elbow surgery.

An abdominal injury forced him to skip last year's French Open.

"He's a big talented player. I know how hard it is to come back after an injury. Now he's back and he's in his highest ranking. He's playing great, having very good results," said Nadal.

"Always I play with big respect against Kei. He's a fantastic player. He can play very aggressive."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130601/tennis-nishikori-aims-gatecrash-nadal-birthday-party