ROME – World No. 9 Kei Nishikori crashed out of the Italian Open on Thursday as he suffered a 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 defeat to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.
The seventh-seeded Nishikori, coming back from a right wrist injury, lost the opening set in a tiebreaker after struggling with his first serve, a main factor in his straight-sets victory over David Ferrer in the second round.
In the round-of-16 match at the Foro Italico in Rome that lasted 1 hour, 54 minutes, Nishikori failed to generate a single break-point chance in the second set as he saw his first-serve percentage drop to 58 percent compared to 75 percent in the second round.
Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion who currently ranks 34th in the world, recorded eight aces and improved his head-to-head against Nishikori to 5-1, his only loss coming at the indoor tournament in Switzerland last fall.
“Most of my shots were shallow. It wasn’t my worst game but I could’ve played better in some situations. It didn’t go as expected,” said Nishikori.
“I wasn’t able to win key points. I lacked confidence.”
Del Potro set up a quarterfinal clash with world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, while world No. 4 Rafael Nadal meets seventh-ranked Dominic Thiem in another last-eight match.
Nishikori is scheduled to compete in the French Open which gets under way May 28 in Paris, but finds himself in a tight spot as he saw his plans to bounce back from injury and regain top form before the Grand Slam event go up in smoke after Thursday’s loss.
“I have to raise my level of play, or I won’t be able to advance in the French Open,” he said.
Nadal’s preparations for the French Open continued apace as he swept past 13th-seeded Jack Sock 6-3, 6-4 to ease into the quarterfinals and extend his winning streak to 17 matches.
Fourth-seeded Nadal broke Sock’s serve twice in the second set and served out the match to set up a meeting with Thiem.
“I am here to try my best. I know (it) is a tough tournament. I don’t have an easy draw here, a tough one,” Nadal said. “Dominic is the player that is having probably more success now on clay, no? So will be another tough battle tomorrow.”
The 30-year-old Nadal has won consecutive clay-court tournaments in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. The Spaniard is aiming for an eighth title at the here as he prepares for the French Open in less than two weeks.
Four-time champion Djokovic is also safely through to the quarterfinals after beating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4.
Nastase cooperating in probe
In Bucharest, Ilie Nastase said Thursday he is fully cooperating with an International Tennis Federation investigation into his foul-mouthed comments and bad behavior last month, AP reported.
The ITF provisionally suspended the former tennis great after he speculated about the skin color of the baby that Serena Williams is expecting and for outbursts during a Fed Cup match between Romania and Britain.
Nastase said he had responded to accusations made by the ITF and written to apologize to “people who may have been affected or upset” and for “the way they were interpreted.” He said he never intended to “affect anyone’s well-being.”