LONDON – Kei Nishikori reached the second round when he defeated Kenny de Schepper of France 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 Tuesday to win his first match at Wimbledon for the third consecutive year.
In a game of contrasting styles, the 10th-seeded Nishikori overcame the big serving de Schepper with his quick footwork and powerful ground strokes at the All England Club.
Throughout the match, opportunities to break serve came few and far between, but world No. 12 Nishikori managed to make the most of them when they arose, despite de Schepper serving 20 aces, many of which clocked in at over 200 km per hour.
“I tried to vary where I stood when returning to try and combat his serve but his serve stayed strong throughout the game,” explained Nishikori. “It was pretty difficult to deal with.”
The 24-year-old started with promise, breaking de Schepper’s serve at 1-1 in the first set. From that point on however, neither player conceded any break points, and Nishikori held his own serve comfortably to see out the first set in exactly half an hour.
The second set continued in similar fashion with both players struggling to create opportunities against serve, leading to a second-set tiebreak.
De Schepper took an early 3-0 lead in the tiebreak, but Nishikori clawed his way back with some inspired returns and passing shots. At 6-5, Nishikori capitalized on de Schepper’s poor drop volley and won the set with a simple backhand down center court.
Patience played a key factor once again in the third set. Nishikori struggled to attack de Schepper’s serve, but he broke through on the second of two match points with de Schepper missing wide off a Nishikori return.
“It was a bit of a boring game,” said Nishikori, who will next face American Denis Kudla. “There weren’t many opportunities to break so it was important to maintain concentration. It was a bit frustrating but I managed to take the few opportunities I had.”
Qualifier Yuichi Sugita took Feliciano Lopez to a tie-break in each set but lost 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (9-7) to the 19th seeded Spaniard. This was Sugita’s first appearance at a grand slam having qualified on his 18th attempt.
“Having tried for so many years, I am happy to have reached a grand slam,” said Sugita. “But it was frustrating to lose such a close match. Since it took 18 attempts to qualify for a grand slam, I now hope I can qualify for 18 grand slams in a row.”
Tatsuma Ito, another Japanese qualifier, also went out in the first round after losing to Italy’s Simone Bolelli in four sets 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 7-6 (7-5).
Elsewhere at Wimbledon, for a set and a half, Rafael Nadal looked in danger of tumbling out in the first round for the second year in a row. The left-hander dominating play on Centre Court was not the 14-time Grand Slam champion, it was 51st-ranked Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
But the top-ranked Nadal dug deep, scrambled for gets all over the court, slipped and fell and got up and still hit winners, pulling out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory — the 700th tour-level match win of his career.
“That means that I had a very long and successful career, so I’m happy for that,” Nadal said. “But the most important thing for me today more than 700 victories is a victory here in the first round.”
Next up for the two-time Wimbledon champion: Lukas Rosol, the hard-hitting Czech player who eliminated him in the same round two years ago.
“He’s a very dangerous player, very strong, very powerful shots from the baseline,” Nadal said. “I have to play very well if I want to have chances to win.”