Kei Nishikori brought his best Grand Slam seeding and memories of last year’s runner-up finish into the US Open, but left dejected on Monday after his third first-round loss in five years.
The Japanese fourth seed crashed out in the first round of the year’s final Grand Slam event, falling to 41st-ranked Frenchman Benoit Paire 6-4 3-6 4-6 7-6 (8/6) 6-4.
“It’s very sad always to lose first round,” Nishikori said.
“He was playing good tennis. I don’t think I played bad. I’ll try to think about the next one and hope I can come back strong next year.”
Nishikori, denied the first Slam singles crown for an Asian man by Croatian Marin Cilic last year, squandered two match points in the fourth set and failed to sustain the promise showed in Australian and French Open quarter-final runs and a US Open warm-up victory at Washington.
“It has been one of my best years so far,” Nishikori said. “It’s just one match so I cannot say something has changed. It was more him playing good tennis. It’s tough to lose in five sets but I fight to the end.”
Nishikori, who withdrew in the second round at Wimbledon with a calf injury, had beaten Paire in both their prior meetings but the Frenchman took his first victory over a top-five foe.
Nishikori dropped the first set, then rallied to reach the brink of victory in the fourth-set tiebreaker.
But he swatted a forehand long, Paire answered with two service winners and Nishikori netted a forehand to force a fifth set.
“I started a little bit slow, but second and third I was playing good tennis, fourth too but my service game was a little less focused. He was playing aggressive. It wasn’t really easy to play for me.
“I got to match point and I kind of lost my forehand a little bit. I lost a little concentration and he hit good serves too. In the first couple of games of the fifth set I lost concentration and he returned well too.”
Paire broke Nishikori for a 3-2 edge and held to the finish, which came after three hours and 14 minutes.
“It was a long match and it’s never easy,” Nishikori said. “I had the forehand to finish it and couldn’t really make it.
“Because it’s the first match in a Grand Slam, it’s never easy to lose that opportunity.”
Paire also deserved credit for taking his risks and going for shots.
“He was a very aggressive player,” Nishikori said.
“There weren’t many rallies. It was tough to get a rhythm. I think it was more because of him I wasn’t playing 100 per cent.”