WASHINGTON: Japan’s fifth-ranked Kei Nishikori rallied to defeat Australian James Duckworth 6-7 (8/10), 6-1, 6-4 on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) and reach the third round of the ATP and WTA Washington Open.
The 25-year-old Asian number one, playing his first match since pulling out of Wimbledon in the second round with a calf injury, fought back after dropping a tense tie-breaker to seize command of the match.
“From the second set I started playing better, less un-forced errors, more aggressive,” Nishikori said. “I was happy with how I played after the second set.”
Next in Nishikori’s path will be the winner of a Wednesday match between Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer and Slovenia’s Blaz Rola.
Reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic was set to start his first hardcourt match on the path to defending his Flushing Meadows title early Wednesday morning against South Korean teen Chung Hyeon. It’s Cilic’s first match since a Wimbledon quarter-final loss to eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
Third-seeded Cilic, the first reigning US Open champion to play in the US capital since Andre Agassi in 2000, and Nishikori, who lost to the Croatian in last year’s Flushing Meadows final, each had first round byes in the hardcourt event.
Nishikori, tested by a 23-year-old rival ranked 90 spots below him in his pre-Open hardcourt opener, seeks his third title of the year after Memphis and Barcelona and his 10th career crown.
“It was my first match on hardcourt,” said Nishikori. “It had been a long time since I played on hardcourt. This should be OK for the next match.”
Duckworth and Nishikori exchanged breaks to open their first meeting and again later in the first set on the way to a tense tie-breaker that Duckworth led 6-4 after Nishikori sent a backhand wide.
Nishikori saved two set points when Duckworth hit a backhand long and Nishikori followed with a backhand volley winner. The Aussie followed with his eighth ace for a third set point but hit a backhand long to fall level at 7-7
Nishikori’s third ace brought his first set point but Duckworth rescued that with a service winner wide, then hit another and finally took advantage of his fourth set point when Nishikori sent a backhand volley beyond the baseline.
It took Nishikori five break-point chances but he finally bested Duckworth for a 2-0 lead to start the second set and rolled through it and into the third set, where he broke Duckworth in the third game for a 2-1 edge and held serve to the finish.
Cilic, 26, seeks his 14th career title and first of the year. He had not played in Washington since a 2010 semi-final run.
A victory for Cilic would book a third-round meeting with American Sam Querrey, who fired 26 aces to oust Japan’s Go Soeda 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.
British top seed Andy Murray opens Wednesday against Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, the 2004 Washington winner making his farewell visit before retiring at the Australian Open, beat countryman John-Patrick Smith 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s different for sure,” Hewitt said. “There for the last time, you are trying to enjoy the memories of being there.”
In women’s first-round matches, Russian top seed Ekaterina Makarova downed Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck 7-5, 7-5 and Aussie second seed Samantha Stosur, the 2011 US Open champion, defeated France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-2 for her 500th career match victory.