Under the Patronage of H.h. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai
Kei Nishikori in first-round men's singles action at the 2021 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
March 14, 2021 – DUBAI, UAE: Kei Nishikori was the first player into the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Sunday, overcoming the 2.11 metre tall Reilly Opelka 3-6 6-3 6-4 to set up a second round meeting with fifth seed David Goffin.
Nishikori, a former world number four, has suffered several career setbacks due to illness and injury. After losing in the third round of the US Open in August 2019 he underwent elbow surgery for a second time and then in 2020 after a year out of the game he played just four events, winning two matches.
When this season got underway, he lost both of his matches at the ATP Cup and then his first round match at the Australian Open, but things took an upturn earlier this month when he reached the quarter-finals in Rotterdam.
Photos: Men’s Day 1 Action in Dubai
Things appeared to be going against him when Opelka broke to lead 5-3 and served out the first set to love, and when Nishikori broke to lead 3-1 in the second he suffered a problem with his right ankle and needed to have it strapped at the next changeover.
When play restarted, Nishikori appeared to have no further discomfort and he went on to level at one set all. In the third set, Nishikori received the gift of a double-fault from Opelka to gain a 4-3 lead, and that one break was enough to decide the outcome.
“I played a very solid match today,” said Nishikori. “I tried to focus on my first service game because I knew there wouldn’t be many chances on my return game. I tried to make my first serve and I think I did quite enough. I surprised myself how I returned well on break points.”
Flashback: Kei Nishikori Flies High In Dubai
“We are delighted to welcome Kei Nishikori to Dubai for a second time, and we were all relieved to see that the problem with his ankle was not a serious one,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “We wish him well as we anticipate many exciting contests in the days ahead.”
Top seed Dominic Thiem will be looking to establish some momentum after a disappointing start to the 2021 season, with a fourth round exit at the Australian Open and a quarter-final loss to former Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut in Doha.
“I’m on the right way, definitely,” said Thiem, who after a first round bye will play either Christopher O’Connell or Lloyd Harris. “I’m not at the top of my game right now. Australia was pretty strange and also tough to digest in all aspects, so I’m still trying to find the top of my game again and to work hard every day.
“Strong tournaments like Doha last week and here this week are good opportunities to get matches, to play against strong opponents, and I hope I make another step in the right direction now.”
“After such an exciting week of women’s tennis we can now look forward to an equally entertaining men’s tournament,” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak. “Early thoughts are that our 2018 champion Roberto Bautista Agut will be a strong favourite, after he defeated our two top seeds, Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev, to reach the final in Doha. But, as last week demonstrated, it is impossible to predict how the week will unfold and who will end the week as our 2021 champion.”
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships continues until 20th March with the ATP500 event headed by reigning US Open champion and world number four Dominic Thiem, who will be in competition for the title against 2021 Rotterdam champion and world number eight Andrey Rublev, 2020 US Open quarter-finalist Denis Shapovalov, 2018 Dubai champion Roberto Bautista Agut, 2021 Montpellier winner David Goffin and 2020 US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta.
The Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships 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.