Under different circumstances, Kei Nishikori would have been seeded with a first-round bye in the Winston-Salem Open.
But because the 21-year-old Japanese rising star did not commit to the tournament before the deadline last month, he found himself playing two matches in the qualifier on Saturday.
It all turned out fine as Nishikori beat Kevin Kim 6-2, 6-1 and then came back to beat Daniel Yoo 6-1, 6-4, as the 32-player qualifying field was whittled down to a final eight. Nishikori will need to win one more qualifying match Sunday to get one of four qualifying spots into the Main Draw, which also starts Sunday.
"I wasn’t going to play in this tournament and I didn’t enter," Nishikori said before torrential rains and gale-force winds swept over the new Wake Forest tennis center. "That’s why I’m playing qualies. But it’s OK, because I want to play some matches now, even qualies. It makes me better, I think. I need to play as much as I can before the US Open."
Nishikori is currently ranked No. 52 in the South African Airways ATP rankings. That would have earned him the No. 14 seed in the tournament had he entered on time, but instead he got the No. 1 seed in qualifying.
He’s trying to come back after missing more than a month earlier this summer because of an injured right shoulder. Before losing to David Nalbandian in the first round at Cincinnati earlier this week, he hadn’t played since Japan’s Davis Cup matches against Uzbekistan in early July.
"Now, it’s feeling better," Nishikori said. "I mean, no pain now. So I feel 100 percent again."
Nishikori, the ATP Tour’s Newcomer of the Year in 2008, had risen to as high as No. 46 before the injury. He reached the final at Houston, knocking off Mardy Fish in the second round in his biggest win of the year. He also reached the semifinals at Delray Beach and at Eastbourne, and reached the third round at the Australian Open.
"I played better in the second match than the first," Nishikori said. "I was more solid on my first serves. It’s not easy playing two matches in one day, especially with this weather. It was hot today. But I finished both in two sets so I’ll be okay tomorrow."