It was not the perfect first-round victory that Japanese fans expected from their hero, Kei Nishikori.
But the world No. 6 managed to take the first step toward defending his Japan Open title by picking up a 2-6, 6-1, 6-2 comeback win over Borna Coric of Croatia on Monday at Tokyo’s Ariake Colosseum.
Making his first appearance on the ATP Tour since a disappointing first-round exit at the U.S. Open last month, Nishikori made a sluggish start against Coric, the tournament’s youngest player at 18 years and 11 months.
“The first match is always tough in any tournament and you are nervous,” said Nishikori, whose only action since the U.S. Open came in a Davis Cup playoff at Colombia late last month. “I rushed myself a little bit too much to take control of the match. Coric played well and persistently to win the first set.”
Second-seeded Nishikori had trouble with his backhand and first serves in the opening set, allowing Coric to break him twice. Coric, No. 38 in the world, used quick footwork and a strong serve to establish the rhythm and force his opponent to make errors.
“My shots went too short in the first set. But I knew what was wrong and was able to correct my problems going into the second set,” said Nishikori.
“If I hadn’t been able to improve later in the match, the situation could have been worse. But fortunately I regained my form. I was able to start playing my tennis from the second set.”
Nishikori’s improved serve enabled him to play aggressively in the second set. He was patient enough to stay deep and deliver angled shots to the corners, forcing Coric to run from sideline to sideline. Nishikori also used drop shots effectively to wear out his opponent.
Nishikori won the first three games to start the second set and never trailed for the rest of the match. He kept all his service games and broke Coric four times to wrap up the victory.
“Though I lost the opening set, I’m satisfied with my performance today because I was able to regain my rhythm,” said Nishikori.
Nishikori plays American Sam Querrey, who defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5 earlier on Monday, in the second round on Wednesday.
In other singles first-round matches, Tatsuma Ito beat fellow Japanese Yoshihito Nishioka, 3-6, 6-0, 7-5, while Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic edged Japan’s Yasutaka Uchiyama, 6-4, 6-4.
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