MELBOURNE: Japan’s Kei Nishikori and Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco scored a pair of opening victories amid a “little typhoon” to begin final Australian Open preparations at the Kooyong Classic on Wednesday.
US Open finalist Nishikori fought past a tough Australian challenge from Jordan Thompson to post a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-4) result while Verdasco beat Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-2, 7-6 (7/4).
Nishikori, ranked fifth in the world, was forced to work hard in swirling conditions at Kooyong Club for just over two hours.
“It was tough for both of us — like a little typhoon out there,” said the Tokyo-born player now based in Florida. “But it was a good match for me: three sets and some good tennis.”
The eight-man warm-up event for the Australian Open starting on Monday is considered prime preparation for the first major of the season.
“Conditions made it tough to play,” added the 25-year-old Nishikori.
“It was difficult for me to be aggressive. But I played a good tie-break and I’m happy to win today.”
Verdasco also took charge of his game as he was tested by the weather.
The 33rd-ranked Spaniard collected the first set against Simon in 27 minutes and thwarted the Frenchman as Simon served to level at a set each.
Instead, he was broken to love, with Verdasco eventually winning a tie-breaker on a concluding Simon backhand error.
“This wind is tough for everyone,” said the Spaniard. “You need to be focused and hit every ball with confidence — if not it flies everywhere.
“Despite the conditions, this is perfect preparation for the Open. I like the hot conditions but you never know here.”
Nishikori came to Kooyong after a semi-final last weekend in Brisbane, where he lost to Canadian Milos Raonic in three tie-break sets.
After winning the opening set thanks to a break in the first game, Nishikori’s level slipped as Australian world number 273 Thompson made his move in the second set, winning it via a break of serve in the fourth game.
The third set was halted for a short time due to a passing shower.
When the players returned Nishikori failed to serve out for victory at 5-3, the set eventually going to a tie-break after Thompson saved a match point in the 12th game.
Nishikori took his first match point in the tie-break as the Australian double-faulted.
Later matches see Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov against Serbian youngster Filip Krajinovic and another Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez versus Richard Gasquet of France.