An 'A' For Kei: Nishikori Advances

Carreno Busta survives scare against qualifier

Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori lost in the first round at Roland Garros in 2014 against Martin Klizan. But the No. 19 seed showed no intentions of letting that happen again this year.

Nishikori moved past French wild card Maxime Janvier 7-6(0), 6-4, 6-3 in two hours, 19 minutes, advancing to the second round at the clay-court Grand Slam for the fourth year in a row.

"It wasn't easy. He was playing pretty good tennis. I didn't know him, so I checked a little bit, but I had to check in the match," Nishikori said. "I think I was a little lucky to finish in three sets... he was playing pretty good."

Last year in Paris, Nishikori earned his seventh Grand Slam quarter-final appearance, a record for a Japanese player. The 28-year-old looks poised to make another run on the terre battue after reaching the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, his second clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 championship match, in April.

"I'm feeling almost perfect. I think I had a good preparation, and I had a good couple matches before coming here," Nishikori said. "I'm feeling great body-wise, and also tennis-wise, too."

The World No. 21 is now 4-0 against wild cards at Grand Slams, and he has not dropped a set in those matches. The 11-time ATP World Tour titlist is 9-4 on clay in 2018, as he continues his comeback from a wrist injury that kept him out for more than five months.

Nishikori will play the winner between Quito champion Roberto Carballes Baena and home favourite Benoit Paire. While he has not faced the Spaniard, the Japanese leads the Frenchman 3-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with Nishikori triumphing in four sets at Roland Garros five years ago.

"I've got to stay focused, try to stay focused every match," Nishikori said. I've got to stay mentally strong, also. Two weeks is not [a] short time. You've got to really stay focused... I think I've been playing pretty good [the] last couple weeks. I'll try to elevate myself and also enjoy the match."

In a way, it was no surprise that Nishikori got by Janvier in straight sets. He has lost only one tour-level match in his career against an opponent placed lower in the ATP Rankings than the Frenchman (World No. 304), falling against No. 325 Rohan Bopanna in Davis Cup a decade ago. The Japanese saved all 10 break points he faced, winning 84 per cent (44/52) of first-serve points to move on.

No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta was in danger of needing to play five sets in his first-rounder, but won the final four points of the match from 3/5 down in the fourth-set tie-break to beat qualifier Jozef Kovalik 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(5).

Outside of a first-round loss in Madrid against Borna Coric, the Spaniard has shown good form of late. He has reached at least the quarter-finals at four of his past five events, including Masters 1000 tournaments in Miami and Rome. Carreno Busta advanced to his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final last year in Paris, defeating Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic along the way. Carreno Busta will next face Federico Delbonis, who moved past qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. 

The Argentine leads Carreno Busta 4-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with his lone loss coming two years ago at Roland Garros. Delbonis had lost his past five matches on the Parisian red clay.

In other action, Italian Matteo Berrettini, who defeated #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe two weeks ago in Rome, ousted lucky loser Oscar Otte 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 to set a second-round clash against No. 29 seed Gilles Muller or qualifier Ernests Gulbis.

Did You Know?
Kei Nishikori has reached the quarter-finals in Paris twice — in 2015 and 2017. In his first appearance in the final eight at Roland Garros, he fell to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in five sets. Last year, he lost to No. 1 seed Andy Murray in four sets.

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