Nishikori claims first win in 12 months as top 20 players exit Rome

KEI Nishikori has broken through for his first win in 12 months after defeating Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the first round of the Rome Masters. The Japanese Grand Slam winner posted a 6-4 7-6 victory over the world number 44, marking his first win since the second round of the US Open in August, 2019. It was also Nishikori’s first win over a top 50 opponent since defeating Benoit Paire in five sets at Roland Garros in June last year.

Now ranked 35th in the world, Nishikori won 6-4 7-6 to book his spot in the second round, winning 77 per cent of his first serve points and 40 per cent off his opponents’ second serve as the two counter punchers went blow-for-blow in a hard-fought match. Despite being straight sets, the win still took two hours and three minutes before Nishikori won 7-3 in the second set tiebreaker.

“Very happy to win,” Nishikori said post-match. “I think winning is most important for now. “I need to get a lot of confidence. “It’s been a long time since the US Open last year. “Happy to go through. “It wasn’t maybe perfect yet, but hopefully one by one I’ll get better.”

Having missed so much tennis due to elbow surgery and setbacks, Nishikori said he was just happy to be out there and played his natural game to bounce back after a first round loss in his return tournament last week in Kitzbuhel.

“I tried to be aggressive when I could,” Nishikori said. “He hits a lot of topspin balls, so it’s not easy. “But I tried to have good defence and good offence.”

It was a welcome return for the veteran, who won through on a day where there were plenty of surprise results. World number 16 and 11th seed, Karen Khachanov, as well as 14th seed Cristian Garin and 16th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime all exited the tournament at the Round of 64 stage. The clay court star in Casper Ruud knocked off Khachanov in three sets, 6-3 3-6 6-1, whilst Borna Coric and Filip Krajinovic – both impressive clay courters – only needed two to knock off Garin and Auger-Aliassime. It will be a particularly bitter pill to swallow for Garin in the lead-up to Roland Garros on his favourite surface.

In other results, Croatian Marin Cilic came from behind to defeat Kazakh Alexander Bublik, 6-7 6-2 6-4, one of only three full-length matches. The other three-setter was Pole Hubert Hurkacz‘s victory over Brit Daniel Evans, 6-3 3-6 7-5 to advance through to the next round of the tournament. Also through to the next round was a pair of Italians with Next Gen ATP Finals winner Jannik Sinner knocking off Paire in a speedy 63 minutes, breaking four times and winning 11 of 15 points off his second serve, whilst Lorenzo Sonego needed just 79 minutes to dispatch Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The news was not as good for the third Italian in action on the opening day of main draw matches, with Gianluca Mager falling to Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets, 7-5 6-1. In the other two clashes, Ugo Humbert took down Kevin Anderson 6-3 7-6 and Stefano Travaglia defeated Taylor Fritz.

In the final qualifying matches of the day, some more Italians made it through with Marco Cecchinato and Lorenzo Musetti joining the likes of Tennys Sandgren, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Dominik Koepfer, Federico Coria, Pedro Martinez and Facundo Bagnis in the Round of 64.

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