Kei Nishikori rallies to overcome tough Rotterdam opener


Kei Nishikori rallied from a one-set deficit to beat Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Tuesday to advance to the second round of the Rotterdam Open.

Nishikori defeated the Frenchman 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in his debut at Rotterdam Ahoy. The world No. 7 is coming off a thigh injury that saw him withdraw from his Australian Open quarterfinal match three weeks ago against Serbian Novak Djokovic, who went on to claim a record seventh title in Melbourne.

“I’m not used to this surface, so I still need to make adjustments,” Nishikori said of the indoor court. “I’m not able to play as I usually can, but I think I’ll gradually get back into it.”

“I’m not 100 percent yet, but it’s the first match so it can’t be helped.”

Herbert took a one-set lead after saving five break points in a 13-minute game at 3-3 and capitalizing on a string of errors by his opponent as Nishikori struggled on the unfamiliar court.

But Nishikori bounced back in the second set, winning five straight games from 1-1 and prevailing in a decider to close out the match, which lasted 2 hours, 11 minutes.

“It wasn’t easy, as he was playing good tennis and serving well,” Nishikori said, according to the ATP. “I had a little bit of trouble with my return game and couldn’t convert the important points. I just tried to play steady, as I wasn’t playing bad, and I tried to stay aggressive.”

The victory sent Nishikori to 9-1 this season after starting 2019 with a Brisbane title and an Australian Open quarterfinals appearance.

The 29-year-old will meet Ernests Gulbis for a place in the quarterfinals. Nishikori has won both previous matchups with the Latvian, most recently at last year’s Wimbledon.

“(Gulbis) is not easy, especially indoors where he uses his great serve and aggressive play really well,” Nishikori said. “I just need to stay focused and get used to the conditions a little bit more.”

Second-seeded Karen Khachanov, winner of the Paris Masters title last November, fell in an upset against Dutch wildcard Tallon Griekspoor, who recovered for a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 upset of the Russian.

The defeat leaves Khachanov winless in three attempts in Rotterdam.