Miomir Kecmanovic spoiled the party for Japanese No. 1 Yoshihito Nishioka and the Tokyo crowd on Wednesday with a battling victory under the closed roof in the Ariake Colosseum.
With the 2-6, 7-6(1), 6-2 result, the Serbian earned his first win at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in his second appearance.
"I feel so good to be able to finally win a good match," he said after his first triumph since the US Open. "[Nishioka] is very difficult to play. He doesn't really give you much. He gets a lot of balls back, so it's definitely tough to play him, but after the last time we played [a qualifying loss in St. Petersburg last season], I was happy that I was able to win this time."
Back in front of the Japanese crowd for the first time since 2019, Nishioka made a bright start as he sought to live up to lofty expectations in his home nation. After falling behind 0-2, the 27-year-old clicked into gear as he won six straight games, finding joy with his heavy, lefty forehand as he ran away with the set.
But a loose game midway through set two helped Kecmanovic find his footing, and though Nishioka prevented his opponent from serving out the set at 5-3, the Japanese star struggled in a one-sided tie-break as Kecmanovic grew in confidence.
"After first set I felt a little bit tired," explained Nishioka, "so I had to focus on [either] the second set or third set. I had to decide which one I would focus on. It looked like I had a chance to get the second set, then I used all my energy."
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The World No. 33 continued to dictate play in the set three, twice battling through deuce to break serve in building a 4-0 lead. A frustrated and Nishioka fought until the last ball, saving one match point at 1-5 with an ace, and another two on return at 2-5. But a backhand error sealed his fate as Kecmanovic improved to 2-1 in the pair's ATP Head2Head series.
The Serbian, who fired 12 aces in the two-hour, 10-minute match, will next face eighth seed Daniel Evans for a place in the quarter-finals.
Nishioka entered Tokyo at a career-high of No. 41 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings and opened his campaign three days after winning his second ATP Tour title on Sunday in Seoul. With that victory, he became the first player from his nation to win a tour-level title since Kei Nishikori won Brisbane in 2019.
With the defeat in his fifth Tokyo appearance, Nishioka's second-round run in 2019 remains his best result at the ATP 500 event.
"I don't have any pressure," he said of playing in front of the supportive Japanese crowd. "I was very excited to play and hopefully they enjoyed the moment.
"It's not easy to play after you win a tournament and come here. Not much time to [adjust] to the court, the balls. Everything is different, so I had to [adjust], which is not that easy."
Nishioka was seeking to become the third Japanese player to reach the Tokyo second round, after qualifier Rio Noguchi and lucky loser Hiroki Moriya advanced on Tuesday. An ATP Tour record nine Japanese men were among the 32-player singles draw.
In the day’s first match in the Ariake Colosseum, Soonwoo Kwon earned a 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 win against American Mackenzie McDonald. With the victory, Kwon advanced beyond the second round at an ATP Tour event for the first time since he won the Astana title in 2021; he was 0-14 in second-round matches since that title run.
Kwon, who upset sixth seed Alex de Minaur in the opening round, awaits the winner of Wednesday evening’s all-Spanish encounter between Jaume Munar and Pedro Martinez.
McDonald was denied a second straight quarter-final — and his third of the season — after his run last week in Seoul.