Big names out in day of upsets at US Open
KEI Nishikori was back in the US Open spotlight on Monday but for all the wrong reasons, as last year's runner-up headlined a day of first-round upsets at Flushing Meadows.
Fourth-seeded Nishikori, who last year became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam final, found defeat hard to swallow after squandering two match points in the 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 loss to Frenchman Benoit Paire.
The 25-year-old Japanese had plenty of company at the exit following a string of opening-day upsets that included seventh-seeded Serbian and former world No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, eighth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova and 10th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.
A hot, muggy day that attracted a record first-session crowd of over 37,000 got off to an ominous start when 50th-ranked Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova dispatched Ivanovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.
Anna Tatishvili gave the home fans a reason to get excited as the 121st-ranked American qualifier destroyed Pliskova 6-2, 6-1, while Frenchwoman Oceane Dodin kept the upsets trending with her 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory over Jelena Jankovic, the 21st-seeded and 2008 US Open runner-up.
But it was Nishikori who generated the opening day buzz as his hopes of making another magical US Open run came to a quick end.
Marin Cilic, who beat Nishikori in last year's final, had no hiccups as the ninth-seeded Croat began defence of his title with a 6-3, 7-6(3), 7-6(3) win over Argentine qualifier Guido Pella.
Recovering from a wobbly first set, Nishikori had looked ready to survive the opening test, taking a 6-4 lead in the fourth set tiebreak.
But the 41st-ranked Paire would fight off two match points then take the tiebreak and carry the momentum into the fifth set where he recorded the decisive break to go up 3-2, before finishing off Nishikori with a booming ace.
"It's always very sad to lose in the first round, but I think he was playing good tennis," said Nishikori. "I don't think I played badly. Didn't play great, but still, it's never easy (in the) first match."
Venus Williams, a two-time US Open champion, beat Puerto Rico's Monica Puig 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-3, hours before sister and world No. 1 Serena launched her bid to complete a calendar year sweep of the grand slams against Russia's Vitalia Diatchenko.