LONDON – Following a straight-sets upset over six-time champion Roger Federer in his opening match, Kei Nishikori came crashing back to earth with a 6-0, 6-1 loss against South Africa’s Kevin Anderson at the ATP Finals on Tuesday.
After beating Anderson earlier this month at the ATP Masters in Paris, Nishikori was outgunned by the South African in just 1 hour and 4 minutes at London’s O2 Arena.
The heavy loss came less than 48 hours after world No. 9 Nishikori handed 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer his first straight-sets loss in round-robin play at the tournament.
“I played one of the worst matches this year,” Nishikori said.
“I don’t even know why I didn’t play well. I was lost a little bit. I just didn’t feel the ball.”
Anderson and Nishikori split their last two meetings and the Japanese player held a 5-3 edge in their career head-to-head before this match. However, just as he did in his tournament-opening victory over world No. 8 Dominic Thiem on Sunday, Anderson started fast as an aggressive forehand into the corner earned him a 2-0 lead.
Having pledged to donate $100 to the Los Angeles Fire Department, who are fighting deadly wildfires in California, for every ace he struck, Anderson hit three in a row.
“My coach is from California and so it’s a bit more close to home,” said Anderson, who ended the match with 10 aces. “We thought let’s try — we will donate and do it in a way that is interactive.”
As an increasingly frustrated Nishikori struggled to control his groundstrokes, Anderson displayed relentless accuracy to close out the opening set.
“He was hitting the ball really well and it was making me impatient. I wasn’t able to extend out rallies,” Nishikori reflected. “My shots just weren’t going in. I was out of rhythm and couldn’t find it in time.”
Nishikori, whose strong run of form in the second half of 2018 included a U.S. Open semifinals berth, will meet Thiem in his next round-robin match.
“I’ll try to forget about today,” Nishikori said. “Something was wrong. I’ve got to fix it tomorrow and try to be positive for the next one.”
Federer bounced back from his loss against Nishikori with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Thiem.
While Federer was still some way from his fluent best, he dropped just six points on serve and took advantage of a wayward display from Thiem to break twice in both sets.
Afterward, he hit back at comments from French veteran Julien Benneteau, who claimed Federer gets preferential treatment from tournaments due to his status as one of the sport’s all-time greats.
“I get asked ‘would you like to play Monday or Tuesday’ sometimes,” Federer said.
“Sometimes they ask me, you know, Asia wants you to play at night. Yes, sometimes we have our say. But I asked to play Monday at the U.S. Open and I played Tuesday night.
“Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t. I think there you have it.”
With two wins from two matches, Anderson leads Group Lleyton Hewitt ahead of Nishikori and Federer on a win and a loss apiece, while Thiem has two defeats.