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Nishikori off to strong start at French Open

French Open: Kei Nishikori headlining biggest contingent of Japanese players in decades

Nishikori off to strong start at French Open

PARIS (AP) -- Japan's fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori got off to a better start than at the 2014 French Open, easing into the second round of the clay-court Grand Slam with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 against French wild card Paul-Henri Mathieu on Sunday.

Carrying an injury, Nishikori disappointed with a straight sets first-round exit at Roland Garros last year but rebounded by making the U.S. Open final.

Winning a high 79 percent of points on his first serve and hammering down seven aces, Nishikori converted seven of his 15 break points and took 2 hours, 10 minutes to brush the former big hope of French tennis off Court Suzanne Lenglen.

"I think it was solid match," Nishikori said. "I think it's not easy to play three straight sets easy. So, you know, there are some ups and downs, and I think I fought through pretty well."

The 25-year-old Nishikori is among the big outsiders at the French Open after defending his Barcelona title and making it to the semifinals in Madrid and the quarterfinals in Rome, where he lost to the top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

Nishikori, who moved to the United States when he was 14 and has been coached by former French Open winner Michael Chang since last year, is the highest-ranked Japanese player ever. Japan started with five men in the French main draw -- the most since 1967 when there were six -- and the most at any major since Wimbledon in 1973, when there were also five.

Go Soeda's 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 first-round loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber quickly reduced their ranks to four, but Nishikori is enthusiastic about the future of tennis in his country.

"It's great to see many Japanese players here, and I think men's tennis got much better right now in Japan," said Nishikori, who used to be nicknamed "Project 45" when his goal was to reach the No. 45 rank so as to be one spot higher than the best ranking achieved by any Japanese man.

The other Japanese players involved in the men's draw this year are qualifiers Taro Daniel and Yeshihito Nishioka, as well as 108th-ranked Tatsuma Ito.

"Those two young guys, Taro and Yeshi, are playing great tennis," Nishikori said. "They qualified for the US Open too. Now they qualified here, so it's great to see for Japanese tennis."

Updated : 2021-09-20 21:18 GMT+08:00