PARIS – Still not fully recovered from injury, ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori lost 7-6 (7-4), 6-1, 6-2 to 59th-ranked Martin Klizan of Slovakia in the first round of the French Open on Monday.
A year ago, Nishikori became the first Japanese man in 75 years to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros, before losing at that stage to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. This month, Nishikori became the first player from his country to be ranked in the ATP’s top 10.
But he entered the clay-court Grand Slam tournament dealing with a problematic lower left back and said over the weekend he wasn’t fully recovered despite taking time off tour to head home to Florida for treatment.
Nishikori was the first player seeded in the top 10 to lose at the French Open.
“Really disappointed,” said Nishikori, who has been getting coaching help from 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang.
“I mean, I didn’t have much practice. So, you know, I knew this is going to happen,” Nishikori added Monday. “I was playing well on clay in Europe, so it’s very sad for me to lose first round here.”
The 24-year-old Nishikori was forced to pull out of the final of the clay-court Madrid Open in the final against Nadal on May 11 because of his injury, ending a 14-match winning streak that included a title at the Barcelona Open.
“First time playing points after Madrid, so I didn’t have much rhythm,” Nishikori said after losing to the left-handed Klizan. “And also serve — I didn’t hit any serve 100 percent before today.”
Nishikori already has dealt with a series of health issues during his professional career, including right elbow surgery in 2009 and an abdominal injury that forced him to skip the 2012 French Open.
“It’s tough for me, but I guess this is my tennis life, you know. I have to take care of my body and injury will come again, for sure. So I have to mentally be ready,” he said. “I have to do whatever I can do to get healthy.”
Monday’s victory was only the second of Klizan’s career against a top 10 player.
“I just saw a little bit, sometimes, he was touching (his) back when he was serving,” said Klizan, the 2006 French Open boys’ champion. “I think in the rallies he played very solid tennis.”
In other action, Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka came back to earth with a thump when he was beaten by Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round.
The Swiss third seed threw away a 3-1 lead in the first set, and even though he pulled level by winning the second set, he capitulated to a 6-4, 5-7 6-2, 6-0 defeat against a man who has never gone past the third round at Roland Garros.
Dealing with expectations has never been a problem for Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal and they both raced into the second round on a damp day in the French capital.
Second seed Novak Djokovic played the funny man as he slithered to a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Portugal’s Joao Sousa, while defending champion Nadal slipped into his customary role of cold-blooded assassin against Robbie Ginepri.
Djokovic had criticized the surface on the Philippe Chatrier show court for being too damp after several days of rain and Wawrinka got bogged down in the heavy conditions against an inspired opponent.
He is the first Australian Open champion to lose in the first round of the following French Open since Czech Petr Korda in 1998, and Wawrinka admitted the defeat had shown him how far he was from joining Nadal and Djokovic at the top of the game.
“The match wasn’t good at all,” said Wawrinka, who was close to tears in the post-match interview. “I was trying to find something and I didn’t — I don’t have an answer why I didn’t play that good. It’s a tough loss, for sure.”
Wawrinka admitted a first Grand Slam title had changed his life and expectations more than he could have imagined.
“It’s a different story now and a different picture for my career. I need to put the puzzle back together and I didn’t find all the pieces yet. Everything was terrible today, I was completely flat.”
Nadal, bidding for a record-extending ninth title at Roland Garros, hunted down wild card Ginepri during a first set that ended 6-0 in the Spaniard’s favor.
The American greeted his capture of the first game of the second set with a clenched fist of mock celebration but defeat, while somewhat delayed, was inevitable as he folded 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.