Tennis: Nishikori into US Open second round

Kei Nishikori of Japan hits a return to Benjamin Becker of Germany.
Kei Nishikori of Japan hits a return to Benjamin Becker of Germany.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Kei Nishikori, glad to be back on the New York hard courts where he became Asia's first men's Grand Slam finalist, reached the second round of the US Open Tuesday (Aug 30).

The Japanese sixth seed, who fell to Marin Cilic in the 2014 final, quashed German Benjamin Becker's rally attempt, emerging with a 6-1, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory on the new Grandstand court in two hours 10 minutes.

"It was a great feeling of course," Nishikori said of the lively reception he received from fans. "I have great memories here and I always love coming back to New York."

Nishikori appeared to be on his way to a quick victory when he put away the first two sets in 49 minutes.

But things then got complicated against the 96th-ranked Becker.

"When he's on he can really be aggressive from the serve, and second ball here he was attacking really well. He is always a dangerous player."

Nishikori, however, finally gained the break he needed for a 5-3 lead in the fourth and served it out with a love game punctuated by his seventh ace.

The second day of action at the year's final Grand Slam was set for a blockbuster night on the Arthur Ashe stadium court where Serena Williams was to launch her bid for a seventh US Open title against Russian veteran Ekaterina Makarova before second-seeded Briton Andy Murray took on Czech Lukas Rosol.

Williams' Wimbledon triumph in July saw her equal Steffi Graf's Open Era record of 22 major titles.

She has won four of five encounters with Makarova, including two US Open matches against the Russian left-hander.

Murray is bidding to become the fourth man in the Open Era to reach all four major finals in a calendar year.

Since capturing his second Wimbledon title Murray has gone on to defend his Olympic gold in Rio, and he'll aim to build on that momentum in the tournament where his 2012 triumph made him the first British man to win a Grand Slam since Fred Perry at the 1936 US Open.

Murray will also be aiming to improve on his 2015 showing in Flushing Meadows, where his streak of 18 straight Grand Slam quarter-finals was snapped by Kevin Anderson.

Murray has downplayed any grudge match aspect to his clash with Rosol, who provoked an angry outburst from the Briton when they met in the quarter-finals at Munich last year.

In other early matches, third-seeded Swiss Stan Wawrinka faced a tricky first-round contest against former top-10 player Fernando Verdasco of Spain.

Verdasco has won three of their five encounters, including a straight-sets win in June on the grass courts at Queen's Club.

Sixth-seeded Venus Williams, who counts two US Open titles among her seven Grand Slam singles crowns, takes on 93rd-ranked Ukrainian Kateryna Kozlova.

The elder Williams sister will be making a record-setting 72nd main draw appearance in a Grand Slam.

Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, takes on fellow Argentine Diego Schwartzman.

The 27-year-old del Potro is back at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2013, earning a wild card invitation with a stirring run to the Olympic final that included an upset of world number one Novak Djokovic before he fell to Murray in the gold medal match.

Women's fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, trying to make it to the quarter-finals in New York for the first time, takes on American qualifier Jessica Pegula.

Fifth-seeded Romanian Simona Halep survived late jitters to make it safely into the second round with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.

Halep needed less than an hour, but admitted she was "too nervous to finish the match" after failing to take advantage of her first chance to close it out when leading 6-0, 5-0.

The late wobble, in front of a crowd that included compatriot Nadia Comeneci - the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect score of 10 - had Halep rating her own performance "less than nine".