Melbourne, Australia: Kei Nishikori returned to Grand Slam action for the first time since his run to the U.S. Open final, beating Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 7-6 (1), 6-2 Tuesday in the first round of the Australian Open.
The fifth-seeded Nishikori dropped his opening service game but recovered the break quickly and weathered a difficult opening match against Almagro, who reached the quarterfinals in his previous visit to Melbourne Park in 2013.
Nishikori kept his unforced errors to 21 against Almagro, who ripped more winners — 40 to 30 — but also made 50 unforced errors.
After a breakthrough season, when he became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final, Nishikori is determined to go one better and win a major.
"Yeah for sure that was one of my best results in my career that gave me a lot of confidence," the Japanese star said. "I beat a lot of top 10 players."
He beat Milos Raonic, 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka and current No. 1 Novak Djokovic in consecutive matches at the U.S. Open before losing the final to Marin Cilic.
No. 30 Santiago Giraldo advanced with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win over Czech qualifier Jan Hernych, and Alejando Gonzalez ousted No. 16 Fabio Fognini 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.
Two-time champion Victoria Azarenka continued her comeback from a foot injury with a convincing 6-3, 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens, the third time in as many years she's beaten the American at the Australian Open.
Limited to just nine tournaments last year, Azarenka's ranking has fallen to No. 44 and she is unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since the 2007 U.S. Open.
She beat Stephens for the third consecutive year at Melbourne Park, a sequence that included the semifinals in 2013, when Azarenka controversially took an extended injury timeout at a critical point late in the match.
"Sloane is a very tricky opponent. It's a great first round for me to really test my game," Azarenka said. "I'm happy with what I did today."
2011 U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur opened with a 6-4, 6-1 victory against Monica Niculescu, and No. 19 Alize Cornet had a 6-3, 6-2 win over Zhang Shuai. No. 24 Garbine Muguruza and No. 25 Barbora Zahlavova Strycova advanced with straight sets wins, while Tsvetana Pironkova beat Hobart International champion Heather Watson6-4, 6-0.