Kei Nishikori defeated Alejandro Falla in straight sets (6-3, 6-4, 6-4) in the opening singles match at the Davis Cup World Group Playoff at Ariake Colosseum on Friday to stake the host nation to a 1-0 victory.
Japan No. 1 Nishikori prevailed in a baseline battle and was especially proficient with his trademark forehand, which he used to rack up 16 winners to Falla’s six. Nishikori needed just 1 hour, 50 minutes to complete the triumph over Colombia No. 2 Falla.
The 23-year-old Nishikori was encouraged by his performance.
“I was happy with my play today,” he said. “It was good for me and the team that I could wrap it up in three sets. I prepared well and I felt positive throughout the match.”
Nishikori provided his own analysis of the win.
“My serve was on and I had good speed and direction,” he noted. “The serve connects to the strokes, so it is important. I also returned well.”
The Shimane native, ranked 12th in the world, took the first game of the match at love on serve and broke twice as he wrapped up the opening set in 30 minutes indoors on the hardcourt.
Falla, ranked 93rd, broke Nishikori in the fifth game to go up 3-2, but Nishikori responded by breaking right back against the southpaw to level at 3-3, then held serve and broke again to move ahead 5-3.
The second set was on serve until the ninth game when Nishikori broke with a wicked crosscourt forehand to take a 5-4 advantage and then closed out the set on serve.
The third set provided more of the same, as Nishikori held serve and broke in the ninth game to move in front 5-4 before completing the victory on serve.
“I could not find my rhythm at the start,” said Falla. “I did not return well. If I had returned better, the match would have been closer.”
Nishikori, who was knocked out of the U.S. Open in the first round last month, said the early departure helped sharpen his game.
“I was disappointed by the result at the U.S. Open, but I was able to get in more practice after that,” he stated. “I hope success here at the Davis Cup will help me on the Tour.”
The second singles match at Ariake, which will be the site of the tennis competition for the 2020 Olympics, featured Japan No. 2 Go Soeda against Colombia No. 1 Santiago Giraldo.
Colombia’s Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah will battle Nishikori and Soeda in Saturday’s doubles .
Nishikori will play Giraldo in the first reverse singles match on Sunday, with Soeda taking on Falla in the second.
Japan was knocked out of World Group last September after a 3-2 loss to Israel at Ariake. Japan had returned to the top level for the first time in 27 years, but was unable to stay there. It defeated Korea 3-2 in April to advance to the playoff.
Colombia is trying to earn a spot in the World Group for the first time.
This is the first meeting ever between Japan and Colombia.
Federer doubles up
Tennis superstar Roger Federer will make a rare appearance on the doubles court when he teams up with Chinese No. 1 Zhang Ze at the Shanghai Masters, organisers said.
Federer, with a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles and now striving to stay at the top of the game, has played doubles only once this year, although he won the Olympic title in 2008.
“We know that Roger does not play a lot of doubles through the year so having him take to the doubles court in Shanghai is a wonderful addition to what is already shaping up to be a fantastic week of tennis,” tournament director Michael Luevano said in a press release.