Kei Nishikori snapped a six-match losing streak to Roger Federer on Sunday at the ATP Finals, beating the Swiss in straight sets.
It followed on from Kevin Anderson’s 6-3 7-6(10) victory over Thiem in the first singles match of the 2018 tournament.
The win extended Anderson’s head-to-head dominance over Thiem to 7-2.
Nishikori had not defeated Federer since winning their Miami Open quarterfinal in 2014. Yet a 7-6(4) 6-3 triumph to the Japanese star saw Federer beaten in straight sets for the first time ever in the group stages of the season-ending event.
“Glad to win today. It’s never easy to play with my idol and always it’s like big challenge for me to play Roger, so it was great to win today,” Nishikori said on court after the match.
“Obviously first match it’s not easy. I mean both of us are playing a little bit out this first set especially. But I think second set I was playing better.”
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 11, 2018
Nishikori had lost to Federer at both the Paris and Shanghai Masters in recent weeks, on both occasions in straight sets. “I had to change something for sure,” he admitted.
“I think I was able to play good tennis, using my forehand a little more, play aggressive and things started working, especially second set. I try to do (net rushing) a little more. I think it’s important to come in and give him a little bit of pressure.”
Aggressive he may have been, but Nishikori finished the match with just six winners – and just one from his forehand wing. He won eight of 13 points at the net.
Instead, this match will be remembered for the large rash of unforced errors, particularly from Federer’s racquet.
Roger said surface slower than his past three events so needs to adjust and had a tough time to do it at practice. Says nerves of a first match played a part too + missed chance at the start of the second set
— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) November 11, 2018
The world No.3’s timing was off, and he frequently framed shots to finish the match with 34 unforced errors – nearly double his tally of winners.
Nishikori built a 5-2 lead in the second set. Federer held to force Nishikori to serve for the match, yet didn’t make enough shots to give the Japanese a chance to get tight.
Up 40-0, Nishikori missed a forehand, but converted on his second match point.
For Anderson, it was a winning debut at the ATP Finals.
The Wimbledon runner-up, and first South African to qualify for the season-ender since Wayne Ferreira in 1995, was comfortably the better player in a one-sided first set.
The second set was a much tighter affair with serve dominating but Anderson sneaked a gripping tiebreaker 12-10 on his fourth match point, banging down his 13th ace to open his account in the Lleyton Hewitt group.
Anderson, 32, celebrated by leading the packed crowd in singing ‘happy birthday’ to his wife Kelsey.
Anderson had lost both his matches against Thiem this year, having won their previous six clashes, and he looked fired-up to reassert his dominance over this year’s French Open finalist.
Having to still play Federer, Thiem is now in danger of falling at the group phase for the third year in a row.
The Gustavo Kuerten Group, featuring world number one and tournament favourite Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Alexander Zverev and American debutant John Isner begins on Monday.
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