Kei Nishikori kicked off main-draw action at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over Reilly Opelka on Sunday.
Nishikori had to contend against the American’s big serves, which were amplified by the high-bouncing conditions in the Gulf desert. He weathered 13 aces across the one-hour and 36-minute first-round clash, but one break of serve in the second and third sets sealed his victory.
“It wasn’t easy, especially against him on this court,” Nishikori said in an on-court interview. “It’s very fast with a high bounce. It wasn’t easy to make many returns, but I think the couple of games when I broke him in the second and third [sets] I played very solid. I tried to step in a little more because [his serve] bounces really high.”
The former World No. 4 has been in resurgent form in recent weeks, and he arrived in Dubai after a confidence-boosting run to his first ATP Tour quarter-final since 2019 at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.
Nishikori will face fifth seed David Goffin in the second round. The Japanese player owns a 3-0 lead in his ATP Head2Head series against Goffin, but it will be the pair’s first meeting since 2015.
“I’m happy to play against him next. We’re good friends, he’s a nice guy. We always have good battles and play long matches,” Nishikori said. “I’m expecting a tough one, but I’ll try to do my best.”
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Australian Open semi-finalist Aslan Karatsev was back to his winning ways in Dubai as he needed a tight straight-sets win against Egor Gerasimov. The Russian wild card stayed solid in the key moments to save five of the seven break points he faced on his way to a 6-4, 6-4 victory. He will next face the No. 12 seed Daniel Evans.
Alexander Bublik and Jeremy Chardy were also among the early winners in Dubai. Bublik edged past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-4, 7-6(4), while Chardy battled past Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to reach the second round. Tunisian wild card Malek Jaziri advanced after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga retired in the opening set at 3-3.