Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori is known for his calm and stoic nature on the court and hardly shows any frustration, let alone any emotional outburst. But on Tuesday evening at the ATP 500 event in Rio de Janeiro, tennis fans got to see a different side of the World No. 5 – one that they are not very familiar with.
The top seed crumbled to a shock 4-6, 3-6 first round loss to the Brazilian star Thomaz Bellucci, who is ranked only 76th in the world. But it was Nishikori’s racquet smash after losing the first set that became the talk of the town and an instant internet sensation.
The 2014 US Open runner-up had broken only a couple of racquets throughout his career prior to this match. It was, however, a rare and thoroughly uncharacteristic fit of rage from the Japanese at Rio where he smashed the racquet with just one hard swipe on the claycourt.
Even the Tennis TV commentator seemed astonished and said: “You do not see this very often from Nishikori. He is normally a very nice and contained character on the court. But he let it go there and not in a good way.”
Perhaps his vexation was understandable. Nishikori was coming off a final defeat to the 66th ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov at Buenos Aires on Sunday where he was expected to win. He had definitely hoped to erase that setback this week but his error-ridden performance in which he was broken four times, did not help his cause at all.
It marked the first time that the Japanese conceded consecutive defeats to players below the top 50 since April 2013.
A despondent Nishikori later on admitted that it could be his worst match in the last few years.
“It’s hard to judge because I did not play well and it could have been my worst match in the last few years. We both failed a lot in the first set, we made a lot of mistakes.”