Top seed Kei Nishikori celebrated his debut at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Tuesday by defeating Benoit Paire 6-4 6-3 to reach the second round.
The world No. 6 earned the only break of the first set to lead 2-1 but then had to fight off seven break points before holding serve in the next game. In the second set Paire was clearly bothered by a problem with his right knee as Nishikori broke to lead 3-2, and a third break in the final game secured victory.
“Never easy playing Benoit, of course. Great serve, great backhand. Tricky player. Good dropshot, good touch,” said Nishikori. “First set I think the key was the longest game, I think 2-1. Able to get the game. I was more confident. If he broke back, anything can happen. Yeah, it was good match. Never easy with this wind. First time playing this tournament. But, yeah, think played good enough tennis today.”
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, fresh off a tournament triumph in Marseille, was involved in a three-set battle but emerged with a 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over Matthew Ebden.
“I had to take the flight next day knowing that I’m going to have to play the day after. Six hours on the plane. I arrived here at 2:00 in the morning, then had to play the same day. I don’t know if it’s because of that, but I was expecting a little bit better today,” said Tsitsipas, trying to find a reason for his struggle. “First set my rhythm on the serve was okay. The more I start serving, the more I got tighter and my serve wasn’t going. I tried adjusting little bit, finding different ways to hit it. But didn’t seem to quite work that well.
“I guess the conditions were not easy to play and deal with (too). I’m happy that I was the first to kind of find some solutions, ways to win that match.”
Gael Monfils claimed his fourth win in four meetings against Marin Cilic, beating the No. 3 seed 6-3 4-6 6-0. Although Cilic took the second set, only one break separated them and Cilic had to save three break points as he served to level the match, before Monfils took control in the third.
“I think I stepped strong in the match,” said Monfils, who broke serve in the opening game. “This first game was key because I knew he’s a player who play with a lot of confidence. You know if you can get early in his mind, it’s always a good thing. I was a little bit, a fraction, too defensive on this breakpoint in the second set. Shanked my forehand. I think I was focused, but I just played poor this game. Then credit to him because he made incredible shots to close the set.
“It was just a matter of me to step strong in the third set. I had this momentum going on on his service game. For me, was just put pressure, pressure. Obviously it works.”
Sixth seed Borna Coric took two hours 49 minutes to overcome lucky loser Jiri Vesely 7-5 3-6 7-6, but eighth seed Daniil Medvedev followed third seed Cilic, fourth seed Karen Khachanov and seventh seed Milos Raonic out of the tournament as he fell to qualifier Ricardas Berankis 6-3 6-3.
In other matches, another qualifier also advanced as Egor Gerasimov defeated 2017 semi-finalist Robin Haase 7-6 7-6, Denis Kudla fought his way to a 2-6 7-5 7-5 win over Matteo Berrettini and Hubert Hurkacz earned a second round meeting with Nishikori by beating qualifier Corentin Moutet 6-3 7-5. Former two-time finalist edged past lucky loser Ilya Ivashka 6-4 4-6 7-6 and in a battle between two wild cards Marcos Baghdatis defeated Mohamed Safwat 4-6 6-3 6-4.
“We congratulate Kei Nishikori on his first match win in Dubai and look forward to seeing how he progresses in the days ahead,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “The tournament has already produced some surprises and it will be fascinating to see who will manage to survive and reach Saturday’s final.”
“We have enjoyed some wonderful performances and the second day has produced as much drama as the first,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “There are so many top stars competing that not all can play on Centre Court, and on Wednesday that provides tennis fans in Dubai the unique opportunity to see some of their favourite stars free of charge on Court 1, including Dubai defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut and Australian Open sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas, as well as Indian doubles legend Leander Paes.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, which continues until 2nd March, is owned and organised by Dubai Duty Free, and held under the patronage of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.