Chennai, Jan 3 (IANS) Kei Nishikori of Japan made nonsense of seeding and rankings as he flattened the highly-rated second seed Marin Cilic of Croatia 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2, en route to the second round of the Aircel ATP Chennai Open tennis tournament here on Monday.
The 98th ranked Nishikori, only 21 but a celebrity back home, took two hours, 33 minutes to tame the 22-year old Cilic, the defending champion seeking his third consecutive title as the Croat seemed to run out of steam after the second set tie-break.
Nishikori, who had beaten Cilic, currently ranked 14th, in five sets in the second round of the 2010 US Open, displayed great resilience and retrieving ability to shrug off the first set loss that he attributed to his weak first serve but which improved as the match progressed.
“My first serve was not good in the first set and he attacked my second serve. But in the next set, I served better and also was more confident in going for my shots,” said Nishikori, one of whose goals is to better his peer Shuzo Matsuoka’s Japanese best ranking of 46.
“I was very nervous with a new coach (Brad Gilbert who was hired in December 2010), new clothes, new place, first match and all that, but it was a good start for me,” he added.
In contrast, Cilic committed uncharacteristic errors in the third set even as Nishikori, who was ranked 56 in 2009, just two years after turning pro, but slipped thereafter due to a problematic knee, gained in confidence to blast shots from the back of the court.
If Cilic looked the better player in the first set when he used his superior reach to advantage, Nishikori did not lose heart and hung on, showing great faith in his mobility and forehand to wear down his opponent.
In the tie-break, Cilic’s game came apart rather dramatically with Nishikori, a product of the Nick Bollettieri, winning it in a canter without conceding a point. Thereafter, it was a one-way flow as the Japanese youngster broke Cilic in the first and seventh games to wrap up the tie.
“I played well in the first set, but wasted a few breakpoints in the second and he gained in momentum. He served well in the tie-break and in the third, he played some good shots. It had nothing to do with physical, but just that he played better in the third and deserved to win,” said Cilic.
Singles (1st round): Bjorn Phau (GER) bt Simone Bolelli (ITA) 6-2, 6-2; Robert Kendrick (US) bt Denis Gremelmayr (GER) 7-6 (1), 6-4); Kei Nishikori (JPN) bt 2-Marin Cilic (CRO) 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2; Stephane Robert (FRA) bt Andreas Haider-Maurer (AUT) 6-4, 6-4; Ivan Dodig (CRO) bt Marcos Daniel (BRA) 6-2, 6-2.
Doubles (1st round): Phillip Marx (GER) / Ken Skupski (GBR) bt Xavier Malisse (ESP) / Jamie Murray (GBR) 6-3, 6-1;
Qualifying (winners enter main draw): Edouard Roger-Vasselin (FRA) bt Milos Raonic (CAN) 7-6 (2), 3-6, 7-6 (5); Alexandre Kudryavtsev (RUS) bt Ante Pavic (CRO) 6-2, 0-6, 6-2; David Goffin (BEL) bt Go Soeda (JPN) 6-3, 6-4; Yuichi Sugita (JPN) bt Konstantin Kravchuk (RUS) 6-2, 6-3.
Main draw: Roger-Vasselin vs Richard Gasquet; Kudryavtsev vs Yuki Bhambri; Goffin vs Somdev Devvarman; Sagita vs Dustin Brown. –(IANS)