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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 March 2019

Dubai Tennis: Burj Khalifa can wait as Kei Nishikori focused on scaling new heights on court

Japanese No 1 makes light work of Benoit Paire and hopes to see the sights but tennis comes first for now

Kei Nishikori's path to the Dubai final is a little clearer following his defeat of Benoit Paire, a typically tricky opponent. Ali Haider / EPA
Kei Nishikori's path to the Dubai final is a little clearer following his defeat of Benoit Paire, a typically tricky opponent. Ali Haider / EPA

Making his Dubai debut this week, Kei Nishikori would like to use the opportunity to see some sights.

He has already visited The Flying Cup, in Jumeirah Beach Residence, the results of which have been posted on the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships' various social media platforms.

Just like most first-time tourists, Nishikori also quite fancies taking in the Burj Khalifa, too. It is just finding the time.

That became a little tighter on Tuesday, when the Japanese star, the tournament’s No 1 seed, came through his first competitive match in the emirate, defeating Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-3.

For now, at least, making tourist will have to wait.

“The Flying Cup was really fun,” Nishikori said not long after his victory on Centre Court. “I was able to see the beautiful beach.

“I want to go to the tallest tower. I forgot the name. Never been that high before. This is beautiful city, and there’s not too many times I have been able to go that high. Well, there is one in Tokyo, but I’ve never been there either.

“I wish I can have some time. I don't think I will, but I hope I can enjoy it this week. Maybe after the tournament.”

Nishikori will aim for that to be this weekend, once Saturday’s final is out of the way. His path is a little clearer following the defeat of Paire, a typically tricky opponent who has beaten Nishikori twice previously, from seven meetings.

The eighth was straightforward enough, although it did include a mammoth 14-minute game early in the first set, immediately after Nishikori had broken for the first time. He saved seven break points to take a 3-1 lead and eventually the set.

Another break for 3-2 in the second proved crucial, especially with Paire visibly affected by a knee problem, as Nishikori broke again to secure the victory and see out the match in one hour and 21 minutes.

“It’s never easy playing Benoit, of course,” he said. “Great serve, great backhand. Tricky player. Good drop-shot, good touch.

“First set, I think the key was the longest game, at 2-1. I was able to get the game. I was more confident. If he broke back, anything can happen.

"It was good match. It’s never easy with this wind. First time playing this tournament. But, yeah, I think played good enough tennis today.”

He feels he is not far from his best. The world No 6 has put behind him the wrist injury that disrupted the beginning of last year, and built on his run to September’s US Open semi-final with a promsing start to this season.

Nishikori won in Brisbane - his first ATP title in almost three years - then reached the last eight at the Australian Open before retiring injured against Novak Djokovic, the eventual champion.

Asked how far he is from his peak, Nishikori said: “Now? I don't know. I want to say 100 per cent. There are ups and downs each match, but I'm more consistent now.

“From end of the year last year, I've been playing good tennis every match. That's something I had to work on. It’s going to be very important that I can able to play 80 per cent, 90 per cent every match. That's going to be my goal this year.”

It should count for a lot this week. Already, the first round has seen a number of top seeds crash out, with Marin Cilic (3), Karen Khachanov (4), Milos Raonic (7) and Daniil Medvedev (8) succumbing to both their superior opponents, and the elements. These past few days, it has blown a gale at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium.

“This wind makes it tougher for everybody,” Nishikori said. “And these days anything can happen: everybody is getting stronger. I'm not really surprised with these results.

“For me, I never see the draw. I don't even know who I'm playing next. I just try to play one match at a time.”

That next opponent? Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, on Wednesday.

Updated: February 26, 2019 10:32 PM

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