Tokyo - Defending champion Kei Nishikori
survived a courageous ambush attempt from Croatian teenager Borna Coric to
reach the second round of the Japan Open on Monday.
Playing his first match since helping Japan
preserve their place in the Davis Cup world group with victory over Colombia
last month, second seed Nishikori had to work extremely hard for his 2-6, 6-1,
6-2 win in Tokyo.
Coric, who stunned Andy Murray in Dubai
earlier this year, threatened to spring another upset after exploding from the
blocks to take the first set, sealing it with a vicious kick serve which forced
Nishikori into a wild return.
But Nishikori, who currently features in a
Japanese television commercial for instant noodles dressed as a samurai and
smashing a hapless blond-haired opponent with a sword instead of a racquet,
awoke from his slumber just in time.
He came roaring back to take the second set
before finishing the job in brutal fashion - an ace to give him match point and
a huge serve to the body, flooring the 18-year-old Coric.
"He made it hard for me at the
start," said the world number six, who has owned the Tokyo centre court in
recent years, winning two of the last three Japan Open crowns.
"I knew what I was doing wrong and it
was a question of cutting down on the errors," added Nishikori, chasing a
fourth title of the year and the 11th of his career.
"I had to forget about the first set
and once I did that I produced some decent stuff," he added.
Nishikori, who has won titles in Memphis,
Barcelona and Washington this year, will take on big-serving American Sam
Querrey in the last 16 after he beat Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov 7-6, 6-4 in
an absorbing first-round match.
"It will be another tough match and I
know I will need to be careful with his serve," said Nishikori.
"But I'm happy to get past the first
hurdle and hopefully I can get on a roll and play better as we get closer to
Switzerland's French Open champion Stan
Wawrinka, who heads a quality field in Tokyo, opens his bid against Czech Radek
Stepanek on Tuesday.
Wawrinka will not be relishing his
second-round match if he deals with Stepanek, however, as the world number four
would play Japan's Tatsuma Ito, the player who dumped him out of the tournament
in the first round last year.
Ito beat countryman Yoshihito Nishioka 3-6,
6-0, 7-5 on Monday.