A wrist injury back in August had forced Kei Nishikori to skip the rest of the season, missing all the important events of the last part of the year and dropping out from the Top 20 for the first time in years. A former world number 4 couldn't recover properly by the time of the Australian Open and he decided to step down to the Challenger Tour for the first time since Champaign in November 2010.
His return in Newport Beach was not that good, losing to world number 235 Dennis Novikov in three sets. Nonetheless, Nishikori played better in Dallas last week, going all the way to win his sixth Challenger crown, the first sine Knoxville in 2010.
Kei gained no places on the ATP rankings list with these 100 points but he certainly attained confidence and winning rhythm before he returns to the ATP Tour in New York and Acapulco. In the final of Dallas, Nishikori took down an in-form Mackenzie McDonald 6-1 6-4 in 79 minutes, saving all four break points he faced and breaking the American three times from 10 opportunities to seal the deal in straight sets and earn a much-needed triumph six months after he played his last match before an injury. Kei still has a work to do on his new service motion and forehand but he is certainly on the right way after these five matches in Dallas, hoping to carry that form to New York as well.
It wasn't the best possible start for the Japanese, offering McDonald two break points already in the first game of the match, but he saved them with a service winner and a backhand error from the young American to avoid an early setback.
Kei broke in game four when Mackenzie set a forehand long and he sailed through the rest of the set, winning 13 out of the last 15 points for a 6-1. Mackenzie lost his serve for the second time in game six after a backhand error and he had a lot of work to do in set number two if he wanted to get back on the scoreboard and challenge a former US Open finalist more.
They both saved two break points in the third and fourth games of the second set and Nishikori found the way to break his opponent in the fifth game after a poor volley from McDonald. The American saved two match points in the ninth game with some good hitting but he couldn't get the break back, missing a backhand in the following game to hand the victory to his rival. Final result:
37-year-old Stephane Robert claimed his ninth Challenger title in Burnie after a commanding 6-1 6-2 triumph over young German Daniel Altmaier in 63 minutes. This is the second title for the veteran in the last 3 months and he became the second oldest winner at this level, only behind Dick Norman who was 38 when he won Mexico City in 2009. Robert was the dominant figure in the final, losing just 10 points in eight service games and saving one break point he faced to keep his serve intact. The entire pressure was on Altmaier, who played in his first Challenger final, and he couldn't deal with it, losing 53% of the points in his games and getting broken four times from five opportunities he gave to Stephane. He struggled with his second serve and made too many errors, having to chase the result in the entire match.