KEY BISCAYNE, Fla.—Anyone tuning in late for the first Miami Open men’s quarterfinal match on Thursday likely wondered if Gael Monfils jumped into the Atlantic Ocan during a changeover.

Kei Nishikori took full advantage of a seemingly depleted and definitely drenched Monfils to win—but not before saving five match points—4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

All seemed to be going well for the Frenchman, though, when he hit an emphatic ace to seal the first set.

The mercurial Monfils, who reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros back in 2008, had his best chance at reaching a second Slam semi at the same 2014 U.S. Open where Nishikori broke through to his first major final. Playing Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, Monfils squandered two match points in the fourth set before crumbling in the fifth. Just like today's match, he summed up his emotions as both disappointed and happy.

“Well, you know, it's never easy to talk about a match like that, but actually I feel that I'm in the right direction,” Monfils said. “I still have the strong belief that I'm not far from those guys.”

That’s the thing about Monfils; he gets away with that sort of content gray area. He's sporadic and combustible, yet has the potential and talent to be far greater than he is. But something about his flashiness and amiable nature makes him extremely lovable, giving him a hall pass for not capitalizing on his chances.

The inevitable Monfils letdown came early in the second set, with Nishikori getting the early break to go up 3-1. That break would end up being enough to give the world No. 6 the second set. To his credit, Nishikori began adding a little flair of his own, with more variety and even a couple of deft drop shots. The second set would end with identical numbers of winners and unforced errors from both players.

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Yet another early break saw Nishikori go up 2-1 in the beginning of the third set. The match appeared to be slipping away from Monfils, and the wind was quickly going out of his sails. He started spending more time taking huge, gasping breathes between points and dumping entire bottles of water on his head during changeovers. Stretched-out towels littered the floor at his feet, as if he was about to lay out on the beach.

And then, instead of Nishikori running away with it, things got interesting. At 3-4, Monfils broke back. The crowd suddenly woke up from its heat-induced coma and roared for more.

Monfils held for 5-4, and went up 0-40 on Nishikori’s serve for three chances to reach his first Miami Open semifinal. Instead of capitalizing, he committed two return errors and missed a backhand. Nishikori even saved a fourth match point later in the game.

“When I was down 4-5, 0-40, I thought that’s it,” Nishikori said. “Especially the last couple games I wasn’t serving well…So I thought it was going to be tough to come back but I tried to play one point at a time.”

That game lasted nine minutes, and Monfils felt the full effects after it as he lugged his lanky frame around between points.

Looking like he was starving for moments in the shade, the Frenchman spent even more time bent over. Despite the theatrics, Monfils ripped a few bigger serves and got the hold for 6-5.

“I think it was a little bit hot,” Monfils said. “A little bit I like to bend a little bit over to get my breathe back. But I was fine.”

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Anyone who’s played a competitive sport knows that hands on the knees are a sign of weakness. Monfils went for broke in the next game, seemingly aware that a deciding tiebreaker would spell his doom. He got a look at a fifth match point nearly 20 minutes after his fourth. But a bold Nishikori saved it once again, and into the tiebreaker they went in what is certainly the best match of the tournament so far.

“I was enjoying how he plays, you don’t see much other players how he plays very athletic player. He’s not easy to play of course,” Nishikori said. “I love to see him on TV [when] I’m not playing [him].”

Nishikori absolutely dominated the tiebreaker by running the 16th seed ragged. He took advantage of his first match point with a punishing forehand cross-court winner, as if to say, "That’s how it’s done."

Last season was summarized as a slip-up for Nishikori; he failed to defend his finalist showing at the U.S. Open, and fell out of the Top 5. He’s the first Asian player to ever reach the Top 10, but Nishikori is capable of doing more, as he showed today.

What sets Nishikori most apart from Monfils is his ability to be toughest when it’s hardest, and apparently, hottest. Now he gets another chance to actually play in a Miami Open semifinal as he awaits the winner of Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic.

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Though six inches, three years and thousands of miles separate the two, Monfils and Nishikori have a lot more in common than you think.

It's cold comfort now, but this is Monfils' best result ever in Miami, and continues a strong start to his 2016 season that includes quarterfinal appearances in the Australian Open and in Indian Wells, as well as a final in Rotterdam. Nishikori’s year has started off nearly identically, with quarterfinal appearances in Australia and Indian Wells, along with his 11th title in Memphis.

Nishikori has been the steadier player over the past few years, but he has had a tendency for injury. He reached the Miami Open semifinals in 2014, but he pulled out with a groin injury.

“I remember that was very disappointing time for me,” Nishikori said. “I was injured so I couldn’t play, but I’m more physically strong. I hope I don’t have to withdraw tomorrow. It’s been pretty good tennis and my body is holding up pretty good.”

His 2015 season was littered with more injuries including his calf, abdominal muscle and hip. Like Nishikori, Monfils is injury prone, or more accurately, accident-prone. His splits-inducing court coverage puts his body in danger. In Miami last year, he went crashing down during a slide against Tomas Berdych, and retired.

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One thing they do not share is expectations. Nishikori carries the burden of being Japan’s No. 1 player, Monfils is comfortably ranked a few spots behind French talents Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. By now, the 26-year-old Nishikori should be more of a threat for Masters titles, and even Grand Slam titles. Monfils escaped that pressure years ago. These days it’s actually expected for him to fall apart.

The former No. 7 should really be one of “those guys” by now, but it looks to not be in the cards for him. With this circus act of a Frenchman, the safest bet is to expect the unexpected, and to always assume he’s going to break a few fans’ hearts along his high-leaping way.