Dubai: Top seed Kei Nishikori was a relieved man after making a winning debut with a straight sets win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday.
The world No. 6 from Japan struggled at times to come to terms with a tricky opponent and even trickier centre court conditions on his way to a 6-4, 6-3 win over Frenchman Benoit Paire in the day’s early game.
In control at most times, the Japanese came up with a break in the third to clinch the set 6-4 in 49 minutes. In the second, his French opponent took an injury timeout and that was good enough reason for Nishikori to break in the fifth to nudge clear 3-2. He got a second break in ninth to pocket set and match 6-3 in 80 entertaining minutes before a modest crowd.
The top seed will now be up against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, a 6-3, 7-5 winner against French qualifier, Corentin Moutet. “It’s never easy playing Benoit as he’s got a great serve and a great backhand that makes him a tricky player. He’s got a good drop shot and good touch,” Nishikori said.
“In the first set, I think the key was the longest game — I think at 2-1 — I was able to get that game and I was more confident. If he had broken back, then anything could have happened. It was a good match and it was never going to be easy with the wind,” he added.
Nishikori was not too affected with the fact that three seeds have made an early exit from the opening round itself. “I think this wind makes it tougher for everybody. These days, anything can happen as everybody is getting stronger. I’m not really surprised with these results.”.
“For me, I never see the draw. I don’t even know who I’m playing next. Yeah, I just try to play one match at a time,” he said as a matter of fact.
Nishikori has enjoyed a strong start to the season with his 12th career title coming in Brisbane last month. He also reached the semi-finals in Rotterdam last week and fell to ultimate champion Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals at the Australian Open.
“I don’t know how far I am from my best. I want to say 100 per cent. I mean, there is up and down each match, but I think I’m more consistent now. From end of the year last season, I think I’ve been playing good tennis at every match. That’s something I had to work on,” he added.
“I think it’s going to be very important that I can able to play 80 per cent, 90 per cent every match. That’s going to be my goal this year.”.
Off the court, Nishikori has set up his to-do list that includes a visit to the “tallest tower in the world”.
“This is a beautiful city. I mean, not too many times I have been able to go that high to the tallest tower in the world [Burj Khalifa]. Well, there is one in Tokyo but I have never been there, too. Yeah, I wish I can go there may be after the tournament,” he hoped.