Rome: Looking to revise his claycourt game ahead of Roland Garros, Kei Nishikori defeated Feliciano Lopez 7-6 (5), 6-4 on Monday in the first round of the Italian Open.
It was Nishikori’s first victory since reaching the final of the Monte Carlo Masters last month. In his previous two matches, Nishikori retired against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in Barcelona and lost to Novak Djokovic in Madrid.
Nishikori hit only 18 winners to Lopez’s 26 but had fewer unforced errors — 19 to 31.
Lopez argued with the chair umpire after losing a point in which he thought the ball bounced twice before Nishikori hit a half volley.
The 24th-ranked Nishikori will next face third-seeded Grigor Dimitrov.
Also on the red clay of the Foro Italico, 10th-seeded Pablo Carrena Busta beat Jared Donaldson 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.
In women’s action, Johanna Konta defeated 17th-seeded Magdalena Rybarikova 6-4, 6-3 to improve to 4-0 in her career against the Slovakian” and Petra Martic beat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 6-2 and will next face defending champion Elina Svitolina.
Earlier on Sunday, Germany’s Alexander Zverev looked every bit a serious French Open title contender as he crushed claycourt specialist Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-4 in the Madrid Open final.
Oddly the 21-year-old world No. 3 is yet to progress past the last 16 of a grand slam but he now has three Masters 1000 titles to his name and against Thiem played with a swagger that suggests that his record in the majors will improve soon.
The second seed broke a nervy-looking Thiem in the opening game thanks to a double-fault and was never really challenged as he produced a clinical serving display in which he did not even offer up a break point.
Zverev, who did not face a break point all tournament, broke again right at the start of the second but squandered the chance of a double-break two games later as Thiem, conqueror of Rafael Nadal in the last eight, hung on.
There was no chance of a let-up from Zverev though and he remained focused throughout, winning on his first match point when his Austrian opponent returned long.
Zverev becomes only the fifth active player to win at least three Masters 1000 titles — joining the ‘big four’ of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
He will roll on to try to defend his Rome title next week having won nine matches in a row on clay, dropping only one set in the process during title runs in Munich and Madrid.
“Hopefully I can continue this kind of streak in Rome,” Zverev told reporters.