NEW YORK – Kei Nishikori fell in five sets to Benoit Paire of France in the first round of the U.S. Open on Monday.
“It’s disappointing, but it’s more my opponent playing well than my playing badly,” said the fourth-seeded Nishikori, a finalist in last year’s event, after his 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 defeat.
“It’s disappointing since it’s the first time in years I’ve lost in the first round at a big tournament.”
Despite dropping the first set, Nishikori made a strong recovery and powered to a two-sets-to-one advantage. But one service break each in the second and third sets would be all the world No. 4 could manage against Paire, who racked up 21 aces compared with just three by Nishikori.
The fourth set remained on-serve until a tiebreaker in which Nishikori looked to be in control, setting up double match point with a crafty backhand lob over a charging Paire. But Nishikori failed to capitalize on either chance, allowing Paire to edge him 8-6 to level the match at two sets apiece.
Paire, who called the match the greatest win of his career, grabbed the final set’s only break with a backhand winner in the fifth game, and held on to secure the win with an ace.
“In the fifth set, I hit too many to his backhand,” Nishikori said. “But rather than focusing on playing the way I want to, I needed to attack his weaknesses.”
In their two previous meetings, Nishikori defeated the 41st-ranked Paire at Roland Garros in 2013 and Paris in 2012.
Injuries have slowed, but not stopped Nishikori this summer, as he successfully defended his title in Barcelona and did well at the French Open before a calf injury weakened him ahead of Wimbledon. Back on hard courts in North America, Nishikori stormed to the Citi Open title and blew away former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in Montreal before being slowed by a hip injury that saw him pull out of the Cincinnati Masters.
In 2013, Nishikori was defeated in the first round by British qualifier Daniel Evans.
Japan’s Misaki Doi, ranked 88th in the world, advanced to the second round of the women’s draw for the first time at the U.S. Open after a 6-3, 6-3 win over Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.
“I’m glad to have won my first U.S. Open match,” Doi said. “My opponent used to be one of the top players, but recently I’ve been playing well enough to beat players above me in the rankings, and I had plenty of chances today.”