Kei Nishikori cruised into the second round of the Rakuten Japan Open with a straight-sets win over Yuichi Sugita on Monday.
Ranked 110, the 30-year-old Sugita put up an early fight against the third seed, but the gulf in class eventually showed as Nishikori powered to a 6-4, 6-1 victory at Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in 1 hour, 21 minutes.
World No. 12 Nishikori said he was initially daunted facing another Japanese player in front of a home crowd.
“I was really nervous. At the beginning, I was surprised by how tense I was. I wasn’t sure how things would turn out,” Nishikori, 28, said. “I want to keep raising the level of my play while progressing to the finals.”
A wild-card entry to the tournament, Sugita served strongly at the outset of the first ATP meeting between the pair, quickly taking a 1-0 lead and holding again for a love game in the third.
Nishikori, in contrast, needed to defend three break points in his first two service games. With Sugita holding advantage in game four, the former world No. 4 rallied back to deuce with a pinpoint forehand drop shot before leveling at 2-2.
He broke Sugita in the following game, winning the point with a backhand winner down the line at 30-40. With his serve warmed up, the semifinalist at this year’s U.S. Open quickly wrapped up game six to take a 4-2 lead.
Nishikori sent down an ace at 40-15 in the 10th game to serve out the set in just over 45 minutes.
He broke Sugita in the opening game of the second set but was forced to defend a pair of break points in his first service game before taking a 2-0 lead.
In game three, he won a pair of long rallies to earn a break point, then attacked Sugita’s second serve to set up a forehand winner down the line for a 3-0 lead.
Nishikori repeatedly out-rallied Sugita in the fifth game, erasing Sugita’s advantage before dishing up another forehand winner for the double break and a 4-1 lead.
Down 5-1 in the seventh game, Sugita survived one match point on his serve, fighting back to deuce after being down an advantage. But Nishikori made no mistake with his second advantage, sealing the match with a backhand winner down the line.
Nishikori will face Frenchman Benoire Paire in the second round. The 63rd-ranked Paire advanced with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-1) win over Nicholas Jarry of Chile.
Earlier in the day, wild card Yosuke Watanuki fought back from a set down to upset Robin Haase of the Netherlands.
Ranked 273, the 20-year-old Watanuki served 10 aces on his way to a 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-1 win over the 44th-ranked Haase.