MELBOURNE, Australia – Kei Nishikori returned to Grand Slam action for the first time since his run to the U.S. Open final, beating Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 Monday in the first round of the Australian Open.
The fifth-seeded Nishikori dropped his opening service game but recovered the break quickly and weathered a difficult opening match against Almagro, who reached the quarterfinals in his previous visit to Melbourne Park in 2013.
Nishikori kept his unforced errors to 21 against Almagro, who ripped more winners – 40 to 30 – but also made 50 unforced errors.
After a breakthrough season, when he became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final, Nishikori is determined to go one better and win a major.
“Yeah, for sure, that was one of my best results in my career that gave me a lot of confidence,” the Japanese star said. “I beat a lot of top-10 players.”
Two-time women’s champion Victoria Azarenka continued her comeback from a foot injury with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens, the third time in as many years she’s beaten the American at the Australian Open.
Limited to just nine tournaments last year, Azarenka’s ranking has fallen to No. 44 and she is unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2007 U.S. Open.
She beat Stephens for the third consecutive year at Melbourne Park, a sequence that included the semifinals in 2013, when Azarenka controversially took an extended injury timeout at a critical point late in the match.
Wawrinka wins opener
Stan Wawrinka began the defense of his Australian Open men’s title with a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Turkey’s Marsel Ilhan.
Wawrinka was barely tested against the No. 100-ranked Ilhan, striking 34 winners and saving the only two break points he faced.
The Swiss player is coming off a breakthrough season that saw him capture his first Grand Slam title, reach a career-high ranking of No. 3 and add the Davis Cup trophy with teammate Roger Federer.
30 aces for Raonic in win
Canada’s Milos Raonic defeated Ukrainian qualifier Illya Marchenko 7-6 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-3 to advance to the second round.
Wearing his familiar protective sleeve on his right arm, Raonic fired 30 aces against Marchenko, including on match point.
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