Nishikori eyes more action in injury return

Nishikori eyes more action in injury return

ROME • Japan’s Kei Nishikori says he is gaining in confidence after scoring his first win in over a year on Monday on the comeback trail from elbow surgery, but needs more matches ahead of the French Open starting in less than two weeks.

The Japanese was the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam final when he made it to the 2014 US Open title clash. It was also on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows that the 30-year-old last won a match when he reached the third round last year.

“I was very pleased to be on the court today, first win on the (ATP) Tour,” he told reporters after defeating Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) in the opening round of the Italian Open in Rome.

“I’m still not feeling 100 per cent tennis-wise but I enjoyed (myself). Now it’s important to have as many matches as I can, keep winning. I need to start getting into a good tempo, good rhythm.”

Nishikori had surgery on his right elbow after the US Open last year. He was slated to return last month in New York, but pulled out of the Slam after testing positive for the coronavirus despite a later negative test.

He played at Kitzbuhel in Austria last week, but the former world No. 4 lost his opening match on clay.

“Today was much better than last week, maybe twice better,” he said, building his confidence ahead of the French Open, with the main draw starting on Sept 27.

“I think at some moments, I don’t have confidence… but little by little, I’m getting better. If I can have more matches before French Open, it will be good.”

He needed six match points to secure his opening win and could next play three-time Major winner Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, who faced Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti yesterday. The result of that match was not available at press time.

Former Rome semi-finalists Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic also eased into the second round.

Bulgarian Dimitrov saw off Italian wild card Gianluca Mager 7-5, 6-1, while Croatia’s Cilic beat Kazakh Alexander Bublik 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-4.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, a four-time Rome winner, and defending champion and second-ranked Rafael Nadal have first-round byes and begin their campaigns today.