Nishikori Claims Debut Victory In Dubai
Eighth seed Medvedev beaten in straight sets
The top seed, who has reached the quarter-finals or better in each event he has played this season, saved all eight break points he faced to advance after 81 minutes. Nishikori is aiming to capture his first ATP 500 title in more than three and a half years. The Japanese lifted his most recent title at this level at the 2015 Citi Open (d. Isner).
"[It is] never easy playing Benoit," said Nishikori. "[He has a] great serve [and a] great backhand... I think the key was the longest game at 2-1 [in the first set]. [I was] able to get the game. I was more confident. If he broke back, anything [could have] happened. It was a good match."
Nishikori improves to 12-2 this season after notching his sixth victory in eight FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings against Paire. The 29-year-old will meet 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Hubert Hurkacz in the second round. Hurkacz beat #NextGenATP Frenchman Corentin Moutet 6-3 7-5 in 78 minutes.
In a highly competitive opening four games, Nishikori saved eight break points and converted his only break opportunity en route to a 3-1 lead. After maintaining his advantage, Nishikori found himself 0/30 down when serving for the set at 5-4. But the 29-year-old took advantage of loose errors from Paire to reach set point, before moving to the net behind a drop shot and striking a forehand volley into the open court.
After struggling with pain in his right knee, Paire gifted Nishikori a break of serve at 2-2 as he attempted to shorten points. Nishikori moved well throughout the set, chasing down balls from his opponent to extract errors and claim victory.
Nishikori also took time to discuss his recent visit to the Flying Cup, where he enjoyed the sights of the city from above. But the Japanese No. 1 has his mind set on going much higher in Dubai, by visiting the world's tallest building; the Burj Khalifa.
"[Visting the Flying Cup] was really fun. [I was] able to see a beautiful beach. I want to go to the [Burj Khalifa]... This is a beautiful city. [There are] not too many times I [will be] able to go that high."
Ricardas Berankis produced a big upset, defeating eighth seed Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3 after 87 minutes. The 28-year-old qualifier, who lifted his 11th ATP Challenger Tour title last month in Rennes (d. Hoang), won 65 per cent of second-serve return points (20/31) and saved three of four break points to reach the second round.
"I was feeling good today. [I am] really happy with my game today," said Berankis. "I was able to [execute] the whole plan, what I was planning to do before the match... The plan was to stay as close as possible and not to get in his game, which is to get into those long rallies which he loves."
Medvedev was aiming to build on a strong start to the season, which has seen the 23-year-old reach championship matches in Brisbane (l. to Nishikori) and Sofia (d. Fucsovics). The four-time ATP Tour titlist owns a tour-leading 14 wins this season (14-4).