Super talented but injury-prone Kei Nishikori couldn't catch a break in the past 12 months, staying away from the court since the last year's US Open and undergoing elbow surgery on October 22. Working at home in Florida since the coronavirus outbreak, Kei had to overcome the virus in the previous weeks, skipping Cincinnati and the US Open and making a long-awaited return in Kitzbuhel.
Facing the young gun Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round, Kei suffered a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 loss in just under two hours, drawing positive notes and hoping for a better run in Rome next week. As was expected after such a long break, Kei looked a bit rusty, dropping too many points behind the initial shot and losing ground in the second set's decisive games, having nothing left in the tank in the decider.
Miomir suffered five breaks but delivered seven from ten opportunities, moving over the top and securing the season's tenth victory. Nishikori was off to a flying start, taking the opening game with a forehand winner and landing another one a few minutes later to forge a 2-0 lead.
The Japanese forced an error from the Serb in game three for a hold at love, building a 4-0 advantage when Miomir sprayed a forehand error. The youngster started to play better from there, creating a break chance in game five that Nishikori denied with a service winner, sending a loose backhand to propel Kei 5-0 in front.
Kecmanovic put his name on the scoreboard with a hold at love in game six, pulling one break back following Kei's double fault and holding at 15 to reduce the deficit to 3-5.
Kei was happy with the level of his tennis in the opening two sets.
The Serb was back in action with a backhand down the line winner that secured a break in game nine for him, only to give serve away a few minutes later and hand the set to Nishikori.
Nothing could separate them in the opening six games of the second set, trading breaks in games seven and eight to stay close. Nishikori hit a double fault in the encounter's crucial moment in game nine to suffer a break, allowing Miomir to hold with an ace a few minutes later and introduce a decider.
With the momentum on his side, Kecmanovic grabbed a return game at the beginning of the final set, securing another one following Nishikori's loose forehand top open a 3-0 gap. The Japanese pulled one break back in game four but Miomir was not to be denied, delivering another break at 4-2 and moving over the top with a hold at love to march into the second round.
"I was not at 100%, but I was happy with the way I played. I was not fit enough, and maybe if I finished in two sets, it would have been different, as I had some chances. It's a shame, as I could have won today, but it was a good moment; I'm positive today.
I hit the ball better in the altitude, so it wasn't easy, but I like it. I'll try to prepare better for next week," said Kei Nishikori.