Nishikori has the measure of Cilic

BIG SCALP: Japan's Kei Nishikori played with purpose to dethrone Marin Cilic and get the Aircel Chennai Open off to a dramatic start on Monday. Photo: R. Ragu

BIG SCALP: Japan's Kei Nishikori played with purpose to dethrone Marin Cilic and get the Aircel Chennai Open off to a dramatic start on Monday. Photo: R. Ragu  

Double defending champion Marin Cilic lost another battle to his nemesis, Kei Nishikori, crashing out in the first round of the Chennai Open in three sets on Monday.

The Croatian was sent packing by the 21-year-old Japanese, who came back from being a set down and added this win over to his 2010 U.S. Open triumph over the same player. Nishikori saved 10 of 11 break points he faced during his 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-2 win.

“I was nervous because this was my first match here. Also I'm playing with a new coach (Brad Gilbert) and new trainer. After the first set I changed my tennis a little…basically not miss any easy balls and not do any crazy stuff. I just played percentage tennis….or something like that,” said Nishikori.

“He (Nishikori) played much better in the third set and he deserved to win. My serve did not work well in the first few games of the decider,” said a crestfallen Cilic later.

Dubious distinction

Cilic, thus, contributed his name to the aggregation of defending champions to have lost in the first or second round in the Chennai Open, joining Thomas Enqvist (1997), Byron Black (2000) and Jerome Golmard (2001) in the black list.

The Croat began well enough, clinching the first set on the back of a break in the fifth game as Nishikori struggled to adjust his backhand against a stiff cross-court breeze.

Most players buckle down after losing the first set. Others step it up in the face of a challenge. The Japanese showed on Monday he belonged in the latter category.

The players went neck and neck before Nishikori survived four breakpoints and five deuces to hold serve in a pivotal 11th game, going up 6-5 in the second set.

Cilic held serve to enforce a tie-break, and that's where Nishikori went into all-attack mode.

An utter annihilation of the pre-match favourite followed. Serving ahead, Nishikori pocketed the first point and stepped in to take Cilic's hurlers, at times anticipating the Croat's wider one with a side-step.

Three mini breaks for Nishikori saw him cushy at 6-0, and another frustrated forehand swing from Cilic handed him the second set, 7-0 in the tie-break, taking the match into a decider.

Drained and insipid

The loss of seven successive points seemed too much to get over and Cilic now appeared drained in the mind as well as the body.

Nishikori broke him in the first game, consolidated it with a solid hold, and followed it up with another break in the seventh game, finally winning 6-2.

Cilic looked largely insipid in the third set, hoping for his wild swipes to create impossible winners rather than engage Nishikori in prolonged rallies. The match lasted two hours and 33 minutes.

In another match, American Robert Kendrick fired in 12 aces on his way to registering a 7-6(1), 6-4 win over Germany's Denis Gremelmayr. The players exchanged breaks early in the first set, which required a tie-break for its conclusion.

Having clinched the tie-break, Kendrick broke Gremelmayr in the first game of the second set and held on to his advantage to the end.

The results: First round: Kei Nishikori (Jpn) bt Marin Cilic (Cro) 4-6, 7-6(0), 6-2; Robert Kendrick (USA) bt Denis Gremelmayr (Ger) 7-6(1), 6-4; Stephane Robert (Fra) bt Andreas Haider-Maurer (Aut) 6-4, 6-4; Bjorn Phau (Ger) bt Simone Bolelli (Ita) 6-2, 6-2.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 10:24:53 PM |

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