Confused Kei Nishikori unable to explain shock Dubai defeat to unheralded Hubert Hurkacz

Confused Kei Nishikori unable to explain shock Dubai defeat to unheralded Hubert Hurkacz
Cheerio to Nishikori who never looked comfortable against Hurkacz. (AFP)
Updated 27 February 2019

Confused Kei Nishikori unable to explain shock Dubai defeat to unheralded Hubert Hurkacz

Confused Kei Nishikori unable to explain shock Dubai defeat to unheralded Hubert Hurkacz
  • Top seed falls in second round to world No. 77.
  • Japanese star never looked comfortable in windy conditions at the Aviation Club.

LONDON: Kei Nishikori was at a loss to explain his shock early exit from the Dubai Tennis Championships after Hubert Hurkacz beat the Japanese star 7-5, 5-7, 6-2.
Coming into the second round match, there was nothing to suggest the top seed would slip on an unheralded banana skin ranked 77th in the world and without a win over a top 10 player in his career. Indeed, Nishikori was on a run of 10 tournaments, stretching back to last year’s US Open, in which he had made at least the quarterfinals, and during his Dubai debut match he barely broke sweat as he brushed aside Benoit Paire in straight sets.
But in a puzzling match against Hurkacz, the world No. 6 looked out of sorts from the start. His ground strokes looked labored and in stark contrast to the clean hitting of his opponent, and after the defeat Nishikori was not able to explain the change from potential Dubai champion to dud debut appearance at the Aviation Club.
“I mean, with this wind and this surface, not easy,” the 29-year-old said. “I mean, of course, I didn’t serve well when I wanted to. I mean, it happens. With these conditions, it’s never easy.
“I think he really played well in the important games.
“I try to find some reason why I lost today. It’s too early. I try to fix a little bit. I mean, I didn’t play really bad. I just need to fix something and ready for (next tournament) Indian Wells.”
Nishikori is not the only one scratching his head at how he lost to the world No. 77, who is solid but far from spectacular and was supposed to be easy meat for the first seed. The Japanese hero arrived at the Aviation Club on the back of his first title since 2016 — at the Brisbane International — and was feeling good about both his fitness and game. But the first set saw Nishikori struggle as Hurkacz took the first set 7-5.
That certainly was not in the script, but Nishikori remembered his lines at the start of the second set and broke in the first game before storming into a 4-0 lead. Cue an easy set-set win for the Japanese? Well, no, and as big an indication that all was not well was Hurkacz’s storming back to take the set to a 12th game. But a straight-sets shock was averted as Nishikori held his nerve to take it 7-5.
That late rally, however, did not prompt a display worthy of a top seed as the Pole rushed to a 4-1 lead in the final set on his way to wrapping up a shock victory. It was the biggest win of his career and no more than he deserved.
Hurkacz did not win an ATP Tour match this season until last week and was overjoyed at the shock success.
“I mean, it’s a huge win for me because it’s the first top 10 win,” the Pole said.
“I was trying to fight for every point. I mean, Kei is an unbelievable player.
“I served well and that gave me some opportunities to attack, also win a couple of easy points. Against such a great player, it’s very important to have some free points.
“The match was a little up and down. But, yeah, I’m very happy with the win today.”
What made this result all the more surprising was the fact that Hurkacz arrived in Dubai thinking he was not in the main draw and would have to qualify for the right to face the likes of Nishikori.
“I was lucky to get last into the main draw.
“Yeah, I thought I was going to play (qualifiers), then I end up playing in the main draw. It was a very tough match yesterday (against Coretin Moutet).”