MADRID – Kei Nishikori lost to former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Monday in a tight two-setter in the first round of the Madrid Open, going down 7-5, 6-4.
Nishikori, ranked 20th in the world, fought hard to avoid an 11th straight defeat against the 10th-seeded Djokovic in his opening match in the clay-court tournament staged at the Caja Magica, but it was Djokovic who came out the winner.
It was Djokovic’s first victory over a top-20 opponent in almost a year. The Serbian has been having ongoing elbow problems and came off a six-month layoff in January.
On Monday, Nishikori squandered a number of chances in the first set and a backhand miss allowed Djokovic to get a key break point in the 12th game, which Djokovic converted with a forehand winner.
The second set was a tightly contested affair with both players showing improved accuracy, but Nishikori sent his backhand long in the 10th game to hand Djokovic the match.
“The main reason I lost is because I couldn’t win the key points,” Nishikori said after the match.
“If I had, the tide might have turned. Djokovic played really well in the second set.”
Nishikori has only beaten the 12th-ranked Djokovic twice in their 14 career meetings, including an upset win in the U.S. Open semifinals in 2014.
Nishikori, who was sidelined last August with a season-ending injury, had reached the Madrid Open quarterfinals at every edition since 2013. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2014 final when a back injury forced him to retire in the third set.
Djokovic admitted the match could have gone either way. He also said it was strange facing a player of Nishikori’s caliber in the first round.
“Of course, I’ve played Kei on big occasions, in many of the big tournaments, finals and semifinals,” Djokovic told atpworldtour.com. “It was different to play him in the first round. It was a big test for both of us.
“I’m glad that match went my way, but it could have gone his way as well. It was a very few points that really decided a winner today. I managed to play the right shots in the important moments.”