• Kyodo, Reuters


Former world No. 4 Kei Nishikori won his first match since returning from a five-month injury layoff, beating Dennis Novikov 6-3, 6-3 in the first-round of the Challenger Tennis Championships of Dallas on Monday.

The 28-year-old needed just 1 hour and 6 minutes to eliminate the 214th-ranked American from the second-tier event, only a week after the same opponent upset him in his much-awaited return to the court.

This time, on an indoor hardcourt at the T Bar M Racquet Club, it was Nishikori who came out on top, the current world No. 27 showing glimpses of his old self after being granted a wild card for the Jan. 29-Feb. 3 tournament as the top seed.

“I still need to work on a lot of areas but my wrist felt good so that’s a relief,” Nishikori said.

“My serve returns were great. After returning the first serve I was able to start a rally which is my strength.”

Nishikori broke his Russian-born opponent in the seventh game of the first set and closed it out. At 3-3 in the second, the Shimane native again turned the screws to reel off three straight games to take the win.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I was last week, I was more hyped up and I was able to get myself into my game more,” said Nishikori. “The more repetitions I get, the better tennis I will be able to play.”

Qualifier Novikov beat top-seeded Nishikori 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 at the Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach, California, on Wednesday, a tournament Nishikori chose over the Australian Open.

Nishikori injured his right wrist while practicing at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati last August, an injury which forced him to shut down his 2017 season.

In other tennis news, controversial Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic is unlikely to play for his country again in the Davis Cup, captain Lleyton Hewitt has said.

Australia hosts Germany in the World Group first round of the team competition this weekend in Brisbane, with Tomic not included after a form slump has seen his ranking drop to 168th in the world. He had been as high as 17th two years ago.

“It’s highly doubtful,” Hewitt told reporters on Tuesday when asked if Tomic might return to the team at some point.

“For me, he’s made some mistakes and it’ll be a long way back. He’s digging a big hole for himself that he may never get out of.”

The 25-year-old Tomic failed to advance to the main draw of this month’s Australian Open after losing in the final round of qualifying.

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