ROME – Kei Nishikori advanced to the second round of the men’s singles at the Italian Open after beating Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in straight sets on Monday.
Nishikori converted two break points and capitalized on Lopez’s 31 unforced errors at the Foro Italico to beat the No. 33 Spaniard 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in 1 hour, 48 minutes.
The two players went back-and-forth throughout an even first set until Lopez forced a tiebreaker after a marathon 12th-game. Down 5-4 in the decider, Nishikori rallied to take three straight points and claim the hour-long set.
He started the second set well and got an early break before the Spaniard leveled at 3-3.
With long rallies bringing both players to the brink of exhaustion, it was Nishikori who held on for victory despite Lopez hitting 26 winners, including seven aces.
The 28-year-old Japanese dropped to No. 24 in the rankings after falling to Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Madrid Open last week. The Serbian also ended Nishikori’s best run here in 2016, after besting the Japanese in a three-hour battle in the semifinals.
Last month, the former world No. 4 made his fourth appearance in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final and became the first Japanese to reach the Monte Carlo Masters final, where he finished runner-up to Spanish “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal.
Nishikori will face current No. 4 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria in the second round on Tuesday.