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Nishikori beats Harrison to open Memphis title defense

AP

Top-seeded Kei Nishikori opened his bid for a fourth straight Memphis Open title with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over American Ryan Harrison on Wednesday night.

Nishikori was cruising through the second set up a break at 5-3. Harrison held serve, then broke the Japanese player in the lengthy 10th game. The American saved four match points before Nishikori hit a backhand into the net, giving Harrison his break and tying the set at 5-all.

Nishikori, the world’s seventh-ranked player, broke back in the next game and then served out the match to move to the third round, where he’ll face Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin, who upset fifth-seeded Denis Kudla 6-1, 7-5 earlier Wednesday.

“I think he (Harrison) started playing a little better that game,” Nishikori said about the 10th game. “I kind of had a double fault (up 40-30), something, easy mistakes. I should’ve closed out. But happy to finish the last two games.”

Throughout the evening match, Nishikori countered Harrison’s strong serve with a strategy of running Harrison from side-to-side along the baseline with an occasional drop shot to keep the American off balance. Harrison has only won once in 25 matches against the world’s top 10 players.

Nishikori and Kukushkin faced each other in the Round of 16 at Brisbane in January, with Nishikori winning 6-3, 6-4 on a similar hard surface as this week’s tournament.

“It was two sets, but it was a tough one,” Nishikori said. “He’s always (a) tough player. Especially with this slow condition, it’s going to be many long rallies. I’m going to have to stay tough.”

Kukushkin, ranked 93rd in the world, got off to a quick start in the opening set against Kudla, the American who entered the tournament at a career-best ranking of 59th. The second set was more competitive, but Kudla was unable to overtake Kukushkin.

In other second-round matches, fourth-seeded Sam Querrey of the United States beat Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland 6-3, 6-4, and Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka topped Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko 6-1, 6-3.