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Nishikori, Soeda earn first-ever victories at Wimbledon

AFP-JIJI, AP

Kei Nishikori and Go Soeda enjoyed their first-ever victories at Wimbledon on Tuesday as the Japanese stars produced dominant displays to surge into the second round.

Nishikori, returning from a stomach injury, marked his first match since April with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 win over Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin.

His first win at the All England Club in four attempts secured a second round tie against Andrey Kuznetsov or Florent Serra.

The 22-year-old made history earlier this year when he became the first Japanese man to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals in 80 years after a surprise five-set win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

But his progress suffered a setback when he was hit by a stomach injury against Fernando Verdasco in Barcelona that forced him to miss the rest of the clay-court campaign, including the French Open.

Nishikori was finally back in action here and he quickly hit a rich vein of form that gave him the belief he could go deep into the second week of the tournament.

“Yeah, for sure. I got a little confidence from Australia and being in the top 20, and I’m seeded for the first time here. So I have a lot of confidence,” said Nishikori, who suffered ankle and knee injuries during the match but expects to recover in time for his next match.

“This is a big win for me and especially since I have just come back from injury. I was a bit nervous beforehand because I was coming back from injury straight into a grand slam. This one means a lot to me.”

There was more good news for Japan as Soeda enjoyed his first ever Grand Slam victory, crushing Russia’s Igor Kunitsyn 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to set up a second-round clash with former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro or Robin Haase.

Soeda, the world No. 58, had been beaten in the first round in his two previous appearances in the main draw here and had also failed to get past the opening match in four visits to the Australian, French and U.S. Opens.

Elsewhere, Serena Williams earned a harder-than-the-score-looked 6-2, 6-4 victory over the 62nd-ranked Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic.

“Definitely a little relief,” the sixth-seeded Williams said. “I was letting out a lot of cries. I was happy to get through that.”

Yes, Williams got the job done, something she couldn’t say the last time she was at a major championship. Last month at the French Open, the 30-year-old American tossed away a big lead — nine times, she was two points from victory — and lost to a woman ranked 111th, the only first-round exit of Williams’ career in 48 Grand Slam tournaments.

In part because of a series of health scares that sidelined her for about 10 months, Williams has gone two years since the most recent of her 13 major titles, including four at Wimbledon. And even though she bowed out quickly in Paris, Williams is a popular pick to do well this fortnight.

“For me, when I’m playing a match,” Williams said, “I either win it or lose it.”

Some other top players were sluggish at the start against unheralded foes Tuesday, when action was cut short in the evening because of rain.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal, for instance, trailed 4-0 against 80th-ranked Thomas Bellucci of Brazil before turning it around and winning 7-6 (7-0), 6-2, 6-3.

“Fantastic for me,” Nadal said, “but I have to improve a lot for the next round.”

Defending women’s champion Petra Kvitova fell behind 3-0 and 4-1 but eventually used a seven-game run to take control and beat 96th-ranked Akgul Amanmuradova 6-4, 6-4. The match was halted by a 30-minute rain delay in the second set; when they returned, Kvitova needed all of three minutes to wrap things up.

“In the beginning,” Kvitova acknowledged, “I think I was nervous.”

Winners included 10th-seeded Mardy Fish of the United States, playing his first match since having a medical procedure on his heart a month ago. The 30-year-old Fish hit 24 aces and defeated Ruben Ramirez-Hidalgo of Spain 7-6 (7-3), 7-5, 7-6 (7-1), then didn’t attend a postmatch news conference; a tour spokesman said Fish wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t elaborate.

All three Australian men in action Tuesday exited, meaning none reached the second round at the All England Club for the first time since 1938. No. 20 Bernard Tomic, a quarterfinalist at 18 years old in 2011, was knocked out by David Goffin, the Belgian wild-card recipient who took a set off Roger Federer in the fourth round of the French Open; 2002 Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt lost to No. 5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and Matthew Ebden was beaten by Benoit Paire of France.