SHANGHAI – Kei Nishikori advanced to the second round of the Shanghai Rolex Masters with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov on Tuesday night.
Nishikori, playing with his left knee heavily taped due to tendinitis, broke Dimitrov in the opening game of the match, then held serve before breaking again in the ninth to claim the set in 38 minutes.
Both players blasted away from the baseline, but Nishikori got the better of it with his deep returns and precise placement of repeated winners.
The Bulgarian made 20 unforced errors in the first set, while Nishikori committed just six.
Nishikori, who lost in the quarterfinals last week in Tokyo, is seeded 12th here.
The Shimane native fell from 13th in the rankings last week to 18th this week after failing to defend his title at the Rakuten Open.
Dimitrov, better known on the tour recently as Maria Sharapova’s boyfriend, is ranked 28th.
A key moment in the contest came in the fifth game of the second set, when Dimitrov failed to convert on four break point chances. Nishikori held to move ahead 3-2, then stayed on serve and closed out the match in 1 hour, 21 minutes by breaking Dimitrov in the 10th game.
“He played much better in the second set. He served better,” stated Nishikori. “I was able to play well on the important points. That was the difference.”
When the challenge came in the second set, Nishikori said he knew he had to step up his game.
“I tried to be aggressive then,” he commented. “There were several tight points. I just tried to not get too defensive and stay on the offensive.”
The match marked the first meeting ever between Nishikori and Dimitrov.
Nishikori will play either Austria’s Jurgen Melzer or Croatia’s Ivan Dodic in the second round.
This is the third time Nishikori has played in the Shanghai Masters. His best finish came in 2011, when he lost to Andy Murray in the semifinals.
When asked if he felt more pressure and responsibility when playing in Asia, Nishikori responded in the affirmative.
“I do enjoy playing in Japan and in Asia,” he noted. “I always hope to do well in these events.”
In other first-round action, former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, who was in the tournament as a wild card, fell to Italy’s Andreas Seppi 6-4, 6-2.
Ninth seed Richard Gasquet of France was beaten 6-3, 6-4 by unseeded Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The loss made Gasquet the first seeded player to be knocked out.
France’s Gilles Simon, the 13th seed, was later eliminated by unseeded compatriot Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-3.
Several players, including Nishikori, are still vying for a spot in the ATP World Tour Finals next month. The top eight players in the Masters Series rankings will face off in London. Top seed Novak Djokovic, new world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer, the fifth seed, have first-round byes.
Heavy rain from Typhoon Fitow again disrupted the tournament schedule. All matches on the outer courts were canceled.