Kei Nishikori was given a surprisingly stern test by Donald Young in his opening match of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2016 on Monday.
The tournament top seed, playing his first competitive match since going down to Stan Wawrinka in the US Open semi-finals, gave his home fans at the Ariake Coliseum an almighty scare after dropping the first set against his American opponent, who entered the tournament as a late substitute for an unfit Nicolas Almagro.
After looking rock solid in the early running, Young surprised all and sundry by earning two set points on Nishikori's serve in game 10, clinching the first to take a one-set lead.
It needed a swift response from the Japanese star, and he was able to provide it with a double-break in games three and five to race through the second set and level the scores.
It was a similar story in the decider, as Nishikori claimed successive breaks in the fifth and seventh games to wrap up what turned out to be a pretty comfortable 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in the end.
— NishikoriGIF (@NishikoriGIF) October 3, 2016
After the game, Nishikori admitted that he was a little bit rusty at first following several weeks off.
“I wasn't hitting enough topspin, and he was playing well. He was in the mood to attack and to come in, and he made all his shots,” he said. “It's been a while since I played singles, so I needed some time to get back into the rhythm.”
Also advancing to the second round on Monday was fourth seed Marin Cilic.
The Croatian was up against Benoit Paire of France, and overcame a second-set blip to seal a 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 win.
Only two other first-round matches were played on the day, resulting in victories for Portugal’s Joao Sousa and Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.
Sousa defeated Martin Klizan 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, while Verdasco dispatched local player Go Soeda 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-3.