Yoshihito Nishioka dreamt of this moment for years. When the Western & Southern Open draw came out, Nishioka knew with one win his hopes of playing the Japanese flagbearer, his practice partner and friend, would be realised.
Shortly after match point on Wednesday, you couldn’t take the smile from Nishioka’s face after the 23-year-old qualifier recorded the first Top 10 win of his career with a 7-6(2), 6-4 victory over Nishikori in one hour and 40 minutes. Nishikori left Grandstand stadium to the sound of ‘There goes my hero’, by the American rock group Foo Fighters.
The World No. 77, who committed only 13 unforced errors in the baseline dual, will next face Australia’s Alex de Minaur, who was a 7-6(3), 6-4 victor over American wild card Reilly Opelka in one hour and 34 minutes. De Minaur is through to the third round of an ATP Masters 1000 tournament for the second time (also 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters).
Nishioka didn’t allow sixth seed Nishikori to build up any rhythm in recording his 13th match of the year. He first broke serve in the third game and came within two points of the 54-minute first set at 5-4, but tightened up on serve. Nishioka took a 6/0 lead in the tie-break, which eventually ended when Nishikori struck a double fault.
Nishikori, who called for on-court treatment on two occasions, gained a 4-3 advantage in the second set, but groundstroke errors cost the Nitto ATP Finals contender, who is currently in eighth position in the 2019 ATP Race To London. The match ended when Nishikori struck a backhand wide — his 33rd unforced error.
“It was a tough match for me,” said Nishikori. “I think he played good tennis. Served well… [It is] good to see he’s getting stronger, growing up… [The] past two weeks, I’m having [a] tough [time] to breathe, some reason. I’ve got to go check.”
The 29-year-old Nishikori, winner of the Brisbane International (d. Medvedev) in January, is now 27-13 on the season.