Nishikori prevails in tough opening match

by Jim Armstrong

The Associated Press

Japanese teenager Kei Nishikori beat American Robert Kendrick in three sets Tuesday to advance to the second round of the Japan Open.

Nishikori downed Kendrick 7-6 (7-3), 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 and will meet Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round Wednesday.

Defending champion David Ferrer of Spain — the top-seeded player at the tournament — has a first-round bye along with second-seeded Andy Roddick.

Nishikori took control of the match when he broke Kendrick with a blistering crosscourt forehand to go ahead 3-2 in the third set. He won the match when Kendrick’s return in the final game was long.

“He’s got a very good serve,” the 18-year-old Nishikori said of his opponent. “I knew I just had to wait for a chance and finally I got it in the third set and was able to break him.”

Nishikori was returning to Japan after losing in the first round of this tournament in his debut last year.

He beat American James Blake at Delray Beach in February to win his first ATP singles title and also beat World No. 4 Ferrer in the third round of the U.S. Open before falling to Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round.

Nishikori said his experience in the past year has made him a better player.

“It’s a huge relief to win here in Japan,” said Nishikori, who is 84th in the world rankings. “Last year, I was very nervous and couldn’t play my game. This year I was nervous too but was able to settle down and I think that’s a result of the confidence I’ve built up in the last year.”

Nishikori has given the men’s game a boost in Japan, which — until his win earlier this year — had not had a winner in men’s singles on the ATP tour since Shuzo Matsuoka won in Seoul in 1992.

In other first-round matches, Croatia’s Roko Karanusic defeated Japanese qualifier Hiroki Kondo 6-2, 6-2. Karanusic will next meet No. 9 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.

Wayne Odesnik downed Kevin Kim 6-4, 6-3 to set up a clash with Serb Viktor Troicki, while American Jesse Levine rallied for a 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 win over Thailand’s Danai Udomchoke. Levine will face Ferrer in the second round.

In the women’s bracket, Israel’s Shahar Peer, seeded sixth, beat Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm 6-3, 6-1. The 38-year-old, who made her comeback to pro tennis this year, won this tournament four times in the 1990s.

“It’s not easy to fill the blank of 11 years and a half. Today’s loss left me with a mixed feeling. I was disappointed, but it’s not so bad considering that it’s impossible to do in only five months,” Date-Krumm told reporters.

“I’ve been playing in order to improve the quality of my tennis. I felt much better than I did in the Pan Pacific. I couldn’t play 100 percent two weeks ago. Of course, I was disappointed, but I’m going to take it positively.”