Nishioka Wins 2018 Shenzhen Open Title

Nishioka Wins 2018 Shenzhen Open Title

Birthday boy Yoshihito Nishioka won his very first ATP Tour-level title at the Shenzhen Open just days after his 23rd birthday. The qualifier defeated France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert in a three-set thriller, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

It was a big day for both men, each looking for his first ATP Tour-level singles title. Herbert has been to a final once before, three years ago on the hard courts of Winston-Salem, but is no stranger to winning, owning 13 doubles titles, including three Grand Slams. Ranked No. 18 in doubles and No. 67 in singles, the 27-year-old Frenchman has been focusing more on his singles game of late.

With the participation of Andy Murray, fans were perhaps hoping for a good comeback story at this year’s Shenzhen Open. There would be one, but from 23-year-old Yoshihito Nishioka instead. Just weeks after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 58 last year, Nishioka tore his ACL, requiring surgery and bringing his 2017 season to an end in early April. Now at world No. 171, Nishioka has been on the comeback trail in 2018, with his best result prior to this week a quarterfinal showing in Los Cabos.

Both men started well, Herbert applying his more aggressive game based on a bigger serve and frequent forays to the net, and Nishioka using his swinging lefty forehand to loop the ball to Herbert’s weaker backhand side. After trading breaks early in the set, Nishioka had three break points at 4-4 after three groundstroke errors from Herbert. The Frenchman was cool under pressure, saving all three with an ace, a forehand winner and an unreturned serve, on the way to a service hold. He wouldn’t be as lucky on his next service game, however, where a flurry of double faults allowed Nishioka to serve for the first set which he sealed with a beautiful crosscourt backhand passing shot from deep in the court.

With the first set in his pocket, Nishioka came out swinging even more freely on his groundstrokes, while Herbert began making more errors, perhaps rueing lost opportunities in the first set. However, with his first title in sight, it was the young Japanese player who started playing nervous tennis, missing where he had been so solid just minutes before. Herbert ran through the next six games, gifted the set with a Nishioka double fault.

Both men needed to steady their emotions going into the third. At 2-2, good, deep Nishioka returns helped earn him a break. Serving to stay in the match at 3-5, Herbert survived three match points, one with an exquisite inside-out backhand volley that just hit the side line, putting all the pressure onto Nishioka to serve for his first ever title. A fourth championship point went by the wayside with an attempted lob long by Nishioka, but he claimed his maiden title when Herbert dumped a final return into the net.

In the doubles final, No. 1 seeds Ben McLachlan and Joe Salisbury  defeated No. 4 Robert Lindstedt and Rajeev Ram in two tie-break sets , 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).

It was an especially sweet victory for Britain’s Salisbury. While he reached the Wimbledon semifinals this year (with Frederik Nielsen), this was also the 26-year-old’s first ever ATP Tour-level title.

Their opponents were well-known to Shenzhen Open fans as both were former champions, albeit with different partners. Lindstedt won in 2016 with Fabio Fognini while Ram is the defending champion with partner Alexander Peya.

In the high-quality final, all four players played at a consistently good level throughout, with neither team giving up a break. In the first set tie-break, McLachlan / Salisbury finally had their first set points with Ram serving at 4-6. The American saved the first with a clean service ace. But with a set point on their own serve, Salisbury fired a serve hard into the corner, drawing a weak reply which McLachlan smashed into the stands for the first set.

Players again held on to their serves in the second set, sending the match to another tie-break which McLachlan / Salisbury took 7-4 to seal the championship without the loss of a set all week.