Yokyo: Kei Nishikori thrilled his home fans as the US Open finalist posted a 6-3, 6-4 opening victory over Ivan Dodig on Wednesday to reach the second round of the Japan Open.
The fourth-seeded Nishikori could do no wrong at the Ariake Colosseum, where the roof was closed due to intermittent rain after two days of sunshine in the capital.
Nishikori, last week`s champion in Kuala Lumpur, next faces Donald Young after beating the American in both of their previous ATP matches. He beat Dodig for the second time this season after a win in Madrid.
"Winning Kuala Lumpur gave me more confidence. I try not to pay attention to the crowd or what the opponent is doing, but it`s always good to play at home. I can feel the support here," said the Japanese sporting idol.
"I was playing well with confidence and my serve was working. He`s a tough opponent who gets all the balls back. I played well on some of the big points and got the win."
Japan`s top player is working to become the first Asian man to qualify for the eight-strong field at London`s World Tour finals in November. Nishikori currently stands provisional sixth with five spots in the field still to be filled over the next month of regular-season ATP play.
Wednesday`s victory took his 2014 record to 45 wins and 10 defeats.
Nishikori spent just under 90 minutes earning his victory against an increasingly frustrated Dodig, who became frustrated with both the ballboys and the Hawkeye computerised line calling system.
"I didn`t really notice what he was doing," said Nishikori. "I have to stay focused on just my own game."
Nishikori was out-aced 6-2 by the 61st-ranked Croatian, who saved two match points in the penultimate game.
Nishikori took the opening set in 38 minutes thanks to a break for 5-3 as he took the early lead. The Japanese player went down a break, 1-3 in the second set, but levelled again with a break back in the fifth game.
The Asian, watched by famed part-time coach Michael Chang, then tacked on an insurance break for 4-3 and closed out victory three games later on his third match point as he wrong-footed Dodig to end the afternoon.
"I felt more pressure in New York, it was my first grand slam final," said the 2012 Tokyo champion. "I could really feel the crowd support."
France`s Gilles Simon came from a set and a break down to overhaul Luxembourg`s Gilles Muller 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-3. He will play American Steve Johnson, who defeated Spain`s Marcel Granollers 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, a 10-ace performance for the winner which took just under two hours.
Johnson was joined as a winner by compatriot Jack Sock as the Wimbledon doubles champion beat Kazakh Andrey Golubev 6-3, 1-6, 7-5.