Japan's Kei Nishikori took just 95 minutes to win his first ever match against Britain's Andy Murray on Sunday in the opening match at the ATP World Tour Finals. The two players had previously faced each other three times with Murray triumphing on each occasion, but this year's US Open runner-up didn't seem too concerned with the record books and seemed on top of his game as he ran out a relatively comfortable winner in straight sets 6-4, 6-4.
Watching on from courtside, former World Number two Michael Chang must have purred with delight at the way his protégé carried out the gameplan on his debut at the event, the first Japanese player to have ever featured. Chang would have no doubt passed on a few tips prior to the match (having competed at the season ender himself during his career) on the importance of getting a good start in the round-robin format, where each player plays each other in their group of four. It puts Murray under intense pressure now in his next game to somehow get a win and get back on course, otherwise an early exit seems likely. It will not be easy though as he still has to play Roger Federer and Milos Raonic.
The World number five started a little nervously, double faulting on his own serve and letting Murray off the hook by not putting away a number of easy volleys at the net. The Scot took advantage of an initially low first serve count as he broke his opponent's serve in the first set to gain a 3-2 lead and must have thought that he was on course to continue his dominance over the newcomer. Their last match had been played way back in the early part of 2013 though and Nishikori has rocketed up the rankings since, playing the best #Tennis of his career and he demonstrated it here. He quickly broke back to level at 3-3 and then proceeded to dominate proceedings, breaking Murray in the tenth game to take the first set 6-4.
Nishikori seemed if anything to up his level at the start of the second set and raced into a 3-0 lead with an early break. It was almost 4-0 and match over, but Murray held his serve to get a game on the board and then dug deep to pull himself back into the game at 4-4. It was not to be his day though, as his rival regained his composure to once more find the tenth game to his liking as he broke again to take the match as Murray's backhand drifted long.
For Murray's part he always seemed slightly below his optimum level in the match and must hope that the effort of getting to the end of season event hasn't left him a little jaded. His second serve looks a little exposed and to have any hope of winning his remaining two matches, it seems that he will need a high percentage of first serves in court.