A win's a win, especially when it's the first in more than a year. Kei Nishikori is back on the board with a first-round victory at the ATP Masters 1000 in Rome, playing just his second event since having elbow surgery following the 2019 US Open.
The 30-year-old from Japan then had to sit on the sidelines during a five-month tour hiatus and also withdrew from the US Open, announcing that he had recently tested positive for coronavirus. He returned from what he described as mild symptoms a week ago at Kitzbuhel, falling in the first round.
"I wanted to comeback [at the] US Open and Cincinnati, but I feel like I wasn't ready for playing five sets, so I chose to play last week in Austria," he told press after advancing past Albert Ramos-Vinolas. "It was good choice to play there because I'm not rushing myself to be 100 percent. I'm sure that I need many more matches to have confidence and [get] my tennis back."
And longer rallies and slower conditions also make clay an easier surface on which to return, he added.
"I think slowly I'm getting recovered. My body is trying to ready for playing three-set match or five-set match again," he said. "It's a little bit easier playing on clay, coming back after one year. I think clay has more rhythm so I can feel more balls better. It sucks, of course missing Grand Slam, big tournaments, but this year is going to be a little bit strange anyway."
Now, he just wants to play as much as he can before the French Open. Having defeated Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets, Nishikori gets talented teenager Lorzeno Musetti Thursday evening, and the former Grand Slam finalist knows what he wants to improve.
"Very happy to be on the court. I still not feeling 100 percent tennis-wise, but I still enjoy. Now it's important to have many matches if I can. Keep winning is most important. Even if it's bad, I think I start getting in a good tempo, good rhythm," said Nishikori. "Serving much better. I think I was serving still low percentage, but hitting good serves to use in my forehands after and hitting backhands better.I think some of the moments still don't have confidence, and I get a little bit back off and I cannot hit through. [But] little by little I'm getting better."
Nishikori has reached the quarterfinals or better in four of his past five appearances at the Foro Italico.