NEW YORK • Kei Nishikori was back in the US Open spotlight on Monday but for all the wrong reasons as last year's runner-up headlined a day of first-round upsets at Flushing Meadows.
Fourth seed Nishikori, who last year became the first Asian man to reach a grand slam final, squandered two match points in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 4-6 loss to Frenchman Benoit Paire.
"It's always very sad to lose in the first round but I think he was playing good tennis," said the Japanese.
"I don't think I played badly. Didn't play great but, still, it's never easy first match."
The 25-year-old had plenty of company at the exit following a string of opening-day upsets that included Serbian seventh seed and former world No. 1, Ana Ivanovic, eighth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova and 10th seed Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.
(1st rd, selected)
Men's: Novak Djokovic (Srb) bt
Joao Souza (Bra) 6-1 6-1 6-1, Milos Raonic (Can) bt Tim Smyczek (USA) 6-4 7-6 (10-8) 6-1, Feliciano Lopez (Esp) bt Nikoloz Basilashvili (Geo) 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 6-3, Rafael Nadal (Esp) bt Borna Coric (Cro) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4, Benoit Paire (Fra) bt Kei Nishikori (Jpn) 6-4 3-6 4-6 7-6 (8-6) 6-4, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) bt Jarkko Nieminen (Fin) 6-3 6-1 6-1, Grigor Dimitrov (Bul) bt Matthew Ebden (Aus) 6-4 6-2 6-4, David Ferrer (Esp) bt Radu Albot (Mda) 4-6 7-5 6-1 6-0.
Women's: Serena Williams
(USA) bt Vitalia Diatchenko (Rus) 6-0 2-0 - retired, Coco Vandeweghe (USA) bt Sloane Stephens (USA) 6-4 6-3, Agnieszka Radwanska (Pol) bt Katerina Siniakova (Cze) 6-2 6-3, Belinda Bencic (Sui) bt Sesil Karatantcheva (Bul) 6-1 6-2, Venus Williams (USA) bt Monica Puig (Pur) 6-4 6-7 (7-9) 6-3, Denisa Allertova (Cze) bt Carla Suarez (Esp) 6-1 7-6 (7-5), Oceane Dodin (Fra) bt Jelena Jankovic (Srb) 2-6 7-5 6-3, Eugenie Bouchard (Can) bt Alison Riske (USA) 6-4 6-3, Dominika Cibulkova (Svk) bt Ana Ivanovic (Srb) 6-3 3-6 6-3.
A hot, muggy day that attracted a record first-session crowd of over 37,000 got off to an ominous start when 50th-ranked Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova dispatched Ivanovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Anna Tatishvili gave the home fans a reason to get excited as the 121st-rated American qualifier destroyed Pliskova 6-2, 6-1. And Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin kept the upsets trending with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Jelena Jankovic, the 2008 US Open runner-up.
It was Nishikori, however, who generated the most opening-day buzz as his hopes of making another scintillating run in the US Open came to a quick end.
Recovering from a wobbly first set, he had looked ready to survive the opening test when he served with a 6-4 lead in the fourth-set tiebreak. But the world No. 4 swatted a forehand long, watched Paire smack two service winners and then netted a forehand.
The 41st-ranked Paire carried the momentum into the fifth set where he recorded the decisive break to go up 3-2 before finishing off Nishikori with a booming ace.
It was his 21st service winner of the match, compared to Nishikori's three. Attacking aggressively, the Frenchman also had more winners (64-34) and unforced errors (67-36).
"To beat Nishikori, for me, it was impossible to imagine this," said Paire. He had never before beaten a top-five opponent going into the clash on Monday.
Marin Cilic, who beat Nishikori in last year's final, had no opening-day hiccups. The ninth-seeded Croat began his title defence with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3) win over Argentine qualifier Guido Pella.
There were few problems for Rafael Nadal too as the Spaniard showed flashes of his top form in the night session to beat Croat Borna Coric 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.
The first two sets brought a vintage performance from the two-time US Open champion.
He has dropped to world No. 8 in what has been a lacklustre season for the 29-year-old.
Given his last chance to keep alive a 10-year streak of winning at least one major title, he schooled the 18-year-old over the first two sets.
But Coric - at No. 33, the youngest player in the world's top 50 - responded with his best tennis.
He broke the Spaniard in the 10th game of the third set to send the match to a fourth set.
The 14-time Major winner finally prevailed thanks to a service break on a forehand service return winner in the seventh game, avenging a straight-sets loss to Coric last year at Basel.
"It's a very happy moment for me," said Nadal, returning to Flushing Meadows for the first time since his 2013 US Open triumph after missing last year with a wrist injury.
"Last year was very hard not having chance to being back in one of my favourite tournaments."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 3: Morning (11pm). Night (tomorrow, 7am) - StarHub Ch201