DUBAI: Top seed Kei Nishikori dispatched “tricky” Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-3 on his debut at the Dubai Championships on Tuesday.
Asia’s top player and the world number six will meet Huburt Hurkacz in the second round at the Aviation Club after the Pole beat French qualifier Corentin Moutet 6-3, 7-5.
Nishikori has shaken up his longtime schedule this season and is playing Dubai for the first time for a welcome change of ATP scenery after limiting himself in the past to North American venues including the defunct Memphis event and Delray Beach.
Victory over the unpredictable Paire who is prone to throwing and smashing racquets in moments of despair, lasted for 81 minutes.
“It’s never easy playing Benoit, of course. Great serve, great backhand. Tricky player. Good dropshot, good touch,” was Nishikori’s analysis.
“The key to the first set was the (eight-minute) long (third) game in the first set.
“After I got that one, I was more confident – but if he broke back, anything can happen.
“It was a good match, it’s never easy with this wind. I think played good enough tennis today.”
Nishikori saved eight break points in the opening set to successfully blunt the Frenchman’s attack, with two breaks in the second set enough to ensure victory.
The top seed now stands 12-2 on the season after a title in Brisbane, an Australian Open quarter-final and the semis this month in Rotterdam.
Nishikori improved his career edge over Paire, winning his eighth from their 10 meetings.
Lithuanian qualifier Ricardas Berankis knocked out another seed after Monday exits of Karen Khachanov and Milos Raonic as he beat Russian number eight Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3.
“I was feeling good today, really happy with my game today,” the number 113 playing only his third ATP-level match of the season said.
“The plan was to stay as close as possible and not to get into those long rallies which he loves.”
American Denis Kudla eliminated last season’s Gstaad winner Matteo Berrettini of Italy 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 and Egor Gerasimov of Belarus beat Dutchman Robin Haase 7-6 (7/2), 7-6 (7/5).