Rising Japanese star Kei Nishikori ended Marin Cilic’s bid for a hat-trick of titles at the ATP Chennai Open with a first round upset on Monday.
The 21-year-old, ranked 98th in the world, fought back after losing the opening set to knock out defending champion and world number 14 Cilic 4-6 7-6 (7/0) 6-2 in two hours and 33 minutes in the southern Indian city.
It was Nishikori’s second big win over the lanky Croat, having beaten him in five sets in the second round of the US Open last year.
Cilic, who won the Chennai titles in 2009 and 2010, appeared set for another confident start to the new year when he breezed through the first set in 46 minutes.
But Nishikori won a tie-breaker in the second set without dropping a point and then broke Cilic in the first and seventh games of the third set to clinch victory.
“It was a good way to start the year because I was a bit nervous,” said Nishikori, who has signed Brad Gilbert as coach for the new season.
“Brad does not join me till next week, so to beat the defending champion here was very good. I think I played well.
“This year I am determined to change my tennis, not miss easy balls, serve better and not do the crazy things I did on court earlier.”
A disappointed Cilic said the Japanese youngster deserved to win.
“He played the crucial points better than me,” said Cilic. “It is not a good feeling to lose in the first round as the defending champion, but I think I did not play badly.
“There was no pressure on trying to win three titles in a row in Chennai. I was not even thinking about it. My only aim was to get ready for the new season.”
Cilic’s defeat opened the tournament up for Chennai first-timer Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, who ended last year as world number six.
Berdych, 25, reached the French Open semifinal in 2010 and then stunned Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon on his way to his maiden appearance in a Grand Slam final.
“It was a good year for me and I hope I can continue the same way this season,” the top-seed told reporters after a two-hour practice session.
“It was a good mix of rest and training in the off-season. The important thing for me is to stay healthy and fit and ready to play well each time I go on court.”
Other contenders for the Chennai title include world number 21 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, the French duo of Richard Gasquet and Jeremy Chardy, and Serbian Janko Tipsarevic.
The sixth-seeded Tipsarevic opened his campaign with a 6-3 6-4 win over Eduardo Schwank of Argentina in a late-night match.
Robert Kendrick of the United States also moved into the second round by defeating Denis Gremelmayr of Germany 7-6 (7/1) 6-4, while Stephane Robert of France beat Andreas Haider-Maurer of Austria 6-4 6-4.
German veteran Bjorn Phau outplayed Simone Bolelli of Italy 6-2 6-2 and Ivan Dodig of Croatia ousted Brazilian Marcos Daniel 6-2 6-2.
Follow Emirates 24|7 on Google News.