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[column size=”00-1″ last=”1″ style=”1″]Sock, Anderson, Haas Into Second Round; Nishikori Retires
by Steve Dorsey

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Top seed John Isner survived a strong challenge in his opening match Tuesday, but the injury bug has played havoc with the first round of the ATP World Tour’s Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the No. 16-ranked player in the world and the No. 4 seed at the Delray Beach ITC, was forced to retire Tuesday night, trailing 5-4 to Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic in the first set, because of a left abdominal injury.

Isner had to overcome a different obstacle, needing all of his 28 aces to oust upset-minded Canadian Jesse Levine 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-4 in a compelling nightcap that concluded the first round of play.

Levine, who now resides in nearby Boca Raton and is ranked No. 95, was not an easy out for the hard-serving Isner, ranked No. 15 in the world. Levine, still seeking his first ATP World Tour title, broke serve in the 12th game of the second set to even the match. Isner  then broke serve to start the third set and delivered his 28th ace of the match on the final point to move on to the second round.

“I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Isner said. “The first match outdoors is always tough. Very different conditions. Jesse’s good. I’ve always had trouble with him. Honestly, it was a good one to get through. A win is a win and I haven’t had many lately. I’m just trying to get this train going. I’ll rest up and I anticipate I’ll be better.”

Nishikori is the third player to exit the tournament with an injury. Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who lost in straight sets to Nishikori in the Memphis final on Sunday, earlier withdrew from the tournament with a wrist injury, and Igor Sijsling of The Netherlands had to retire at the end of the second set of his match Tuesday afternoon against Tommy Haas because of an ankle injury.

Nishikori arrived in Delray Beach fresh off winning his third ATP World Tour title Sunday in Memphis that boosted his ranking six slots from No. 22. His return to the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center, however, was short-lived at the venue where he won his first ATP World Tour title in 2008 and was a semifinalist in 2011. He said the injury bothered him some last week while playing in Memphis.

“I tried to play today, but the pain was increasing,” Nishikori said. “It is disappointing, especially after a good week, you want to do well.”

Karlovic, who is ranked No. 150, knows all about first-round disappointment here, having lost first-round matches in three of his four previous ITC tournaments. He also can relate to the injury bug, having been sidelined much of last summer with a right foot injury.

“I could tell he was injured,” Karlovic said. “I was playing well, but it was windy so it’s not easy. A win is a win.”

Defending ITC champion Kevin Anderson, who is seeded No. 6, also advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win against qualifier Tim Smyczek. The only American other than Isner to win Tuesday was 20-year-old Jack Sock, who many are wondering if he could be the future face of American tennis. That question was posed to Sock following his first-round straight-sets victory Tuesday afternoon.

“I get asked that question a lot and I give the same answer every time,” said Sock, who advanced to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3 win against Australian Matthew Ebden. “Yeah, I’m a young American coming up, but there’s a bunch of others around my age. We’re all trying to do our best to get American tennis back on the map and back to the top.”

Sock’s stock jumped last week in Memphis after he upset Milos Raonic, who is ranked No. 18 in the world and was the No. 2 seed. Sock, who lost in the singles quarterfinals but made it to the finals in doubles at Memphis, arrived in Delray Beach with a career-best ATP ranking of 130 and was awarded a wild card spot in the ITC main draw. He appears to be taking the attention he’s receiving now in stride despite his youth.

“For me, I don’t really think about it that much,” Sock said of the expectations heaped upon him as a potential rising star on the American tennis scene. “I just kind of go about my business and do my own personal stuff. I mean, we’re all friends and we all push each other, and we all want to see each other do well. I hope all of us can make it to the top. I don’t let it be a distraction. It is what it is.”

Sock, who lost in the qualifying rounds his two previous visits to Delray Beach, next faces Ricardas Berankis, the No. 1 seed in the qualifying draw who lost in the final round of qualifying on Monday but gained entry into the main draw when Lopez withdrew from the tournament.

“I did really well last week in Memphis and I felt pretty confident coming into this week,” Sock said. “It was my first singles match win of the year (in Memphis). It was a big help to my confidence. To beat a guy like Milos indoors there where he’s had success kind of makes you think you can beat a lot of guys on any day. I just want to back up a good week.”

In other first-round action Tuesday, No. 2 seed described his win against Sijsling as a “really strange match.” Haas, the No. 19-ranked player in the world, lost the first set to Sijsling 7-5, and the second set was 4-all when Sijsling twisted his left ankle in the ninth game and required about 10 minutes of attention from a trainer. When the match resumed, Haas won the next two games to take the set 6-4 and even the match, after which an obviously frustrated Sijsling, who hit three balls into the stands and out of the stadium, retired.

“I think he probably thought, maybe if I break here I can hold my serve and be off the court,” Haas said of Sijsling’s decision to finish the second set. “He looked like he was in some serious pain. I got lucky there. He was so close to beating me. I can understand (his frustration). He’s playing some really good tennis, and he’s very dangerous and will be in the future. It was a weird ending, sort of like one I won’t forget for the rest of my career, that’s for sure.”

Ernests Gulbis, who registered his first career ATP World Tour singles title in Delray Beach in 2010, also advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 win against wild card entry James Blake. Gulbis, 24, finished outside the ATP top 100 rankings last year for the first time since 2006. He arrived at the Delray Beach ITC with a No. 109 ranking and had to win three qualifying matches to earn a spot in the main draw. Gulbis next faces No. 3 seed Sam Querrey in the second round.

The other first-round singles winners Tuesday were Daniel Munoz de la Nava, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Denis Istomin, Yen-Hsun Lu, Denis Istomin, Go Soeda and lucky loser Berankis. The top-seeded doubles team of Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau breezed to a straight-sets win in their first-round match.


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