Kei Nishikori has rarely made his life this easy at a Grand Slam. For only the fourth time in his career, the eighth-seeded Japanese has dropped only one set or less en route to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam.
Nishikori has become synonymous with marathon battles at majors. He’s reached the quarter-finals of a Slam on 12 occasions, but often becomes tangled in five-setters en route to the last eight, zapping him of energy before the crux of the major.
There’s been no drama this fortnight, though. The 29-year-old has dropped only one set through four rounds and has spent less than nine hours on the court (8:31).
It’s a stark contrast to his campaigns this year at the Australian Open and Roland Garros. He weathered three five-set matches in Melbourne and back-to-back five-setters in Paris. By the time he got to the quarter-finals, there was nothing left in the tank. An exhausted Nishikori retired with a right leg injury against Novak Djokovic in Melbourne and won only five games against Rafael Nadal in Paris.
“I think I have to keep trying to work to finish [in] straight sets, but that means I’m maybe not good enough tennis-wise and also mentally. So I just keep working,” Nishikori said after his loss to Nadal. “That’s going to be the next step because I’m always stuck in the quarter-finals in Grand Slams. I think the next goal is to be in the semi-finals or final. I know it’s not going to be easy because I’ve probably got to beat someone from the top three [in the ATP Rankings] and I think they are dominating still.”
Nishikori Reaching A Grand Slam QF
Nishikori will again face a member of the Big Three on Wednesday when he stares across the net at eight-time champion Roger Federer for a place in the semi-finals. The Swiss leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 7-3, although Nishikori won their last meeting at the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.
“I’m sure it’s going to be tough, but I feel like I am very confident this week, playing good tennis,” Nishikori said on Monday after beating Mikhail Kukushkin.
The 2014 US Open finalist has played efficiently all tournament, shortening points and conserving energy. Nishikori has made 111 trips to net and won 85 of them (76%). He’s also increased the pace on his shots, ripping 132 winners to 101 errors. Nishikori has hit more winners than errors in all of his matches so far at The Championships.
Coming to net more often has been a focal point for Nishikori and his team. “We’ve been working on that for years. Sometimes he does it more than others, sometimes he has chances to do it more than others,” coach Dante Bottini told ATPTour.com. “I like it when he comes forward… He has great volleys, great touch.”
Federer Moves To The Verge Of 100th Wimbledon Match Win
Former World No. 2 Michael Chang, Nishikori’s other coach, said his pupil’s all-court game, including his net play, might be his best asset.
“What’s great about Kei’s game is that he can play from anywhere on the court now,” Chang told ATPTour.com. “Obviously he’s known for hitting great forehands and backhands. He’s got a very good serve, obviously that can still be improved. He wins a lot of points at net. He’s a great volleyer. He’s a great transitional player from defence to offence or offence to defence.”
Nishikori has reached the quarter-finals of every Grand Slam, but is 3-8 when he gets there and has cleared that hurdle only at the US Open. It takes a top player to beat him, though. Six of his eight Grand Slam quarter-final defeats have come to Djokovic, Nadal or Andy Murray.
For Nishikori to get over the hump more often, Chang said, his pupil should try showing more emotion.
“I know it’s not necessarily in his nature to do that, but if you look at players who maybe on the outset, maybe their personalities aren’t necessarily like that, but when it comes right down to it, and the moments are there, it comes out. Tennis just does that to you. There’s no question,” Chang said.
“If you look at Kei’s big matches he has won in the past, it’s been there… I think having a little bit of that can certainly only help him.”
Federer and Nishikori have met at a Grand Slam only once, in the fourth round of the 2017 Australian Open. The Swiss won in five sets, a rare blow to Nishikori’s all-time best deciding-set record. The Japanese has won 75 per cent (132-45) of his deciding sets, best in the Open Era, according to the FedEx ATP Performance Zone.
“I’m happy to be playing Roger now because I think I’m in good shape now,” Nishikori said. “I know it’s not going to be easy, but I will enjoy for sure.”