"I think my difference is going to work well here...I love playing on clay. I have to use different shots and to use my mental a little bit more," Kei Nishikori had said in an interview at Monte Carlo before he was to play his round with Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
Nishikori was confident in saying "I had a good practice the last two weeks after Miami. I'm doing well practicing..." He knew that having great sessions since coming from the hard court season to clay was necessary.
But he also had a rough beginning season. After winning Brisbane from Daniil Medvedev, Nishikori had an up and down season. He had to retire from severe fatigue at the Australian Open opposite Novak Djokovic where he lost the first set 6-1 and retired at 4-1 in the second.
He was beaten by Stan Wawrinka at Rotterdam and had suffered double losses by Hubert Hurkacz at Dubai and Indian Wells. The Miami Open, Nishikori had a three set match loss. But everyone was waiting and anxious to see how Kei Nishikori's performance was now.
He had much rest and everyone was looking forward to watching a satisfying match. He had made the Monte Carlo final last year but lost to Rafael Nadal. Well Herbert was not Nadal but the first set Nishikori managed well in keeping up with the Frenchman as they went toe-to-toe at 3-all with Nishikori winning the rally with an overhead smash.
Much of the rallying ended with Nishikori feeling the heat though and Herbert came out on the winning point of it. The 5th ranked Nishikori stayed along with Herbert and managed to maintain his position in the cross courts, but towards the end of the point being made he either hit the return in the net or behind the baseline.
The first set Pierre-Hugues Herbert proved a winner at 7-5. Nishikori had a lot to prove to his team and the crowd now, but he continued feeling inspired and hopeful. The Frenchman felt confident upon winning the first round at Monte Carlo having defeated Spain's Fernando Verdasco.
This gave him the self-assurance to continue his pattern of play to win. The second set unfortunately for Nishikori proved to be the same nightmare, but pure pleasure to Herbert. There was hardly any time that the doubles specialist didn't have a one game lead and he carried it off well.
Leading at 3-2 Nishikori had finally won the rally. It seemed that just as his momentum was taking off that the nasty unforced errors would creep into his game again. It might have been just as frustrating for the crowd to witness that performance as it was for Nishikori who appeared to have no control or rhythm over his strokes and strategies.
Herbert played smoothly and was very glad to win the second set 6-4 completing the round with a victory. Once known for only his doubles strategies with partner Nicolas Mahut, he is starting to spread his tactics in singles and is loving it.
He had mentioned about his entry into Monte Carlo saying "I came to the match with good feelings after the first round (with Fernando Verdasco). In that round he had accomplished 31 winners and glad to be known as an all-around player.
But it was Nishikori that was suffering again from a lackluster game. He had always beaten Herbert but now the chances were reversed. The Frenchman remarked "I'm very happy to finally beat Kei. I was very confident with my defence."
Nishikori has to go back to his intense practice again and wonder why his rhythm and strokes were missing their marks to success. It's hoping next week his entry into the Barcelona Open will be much more productive and consistent not only for his fans to see, but for him to be able to execute his shots with precision to bring about success again.