How much does Kei Nishikori have left in the tank?

Once again Kei Nishikori has edged his way into the next round at Roland Garros with a four sets win against Fernando Verdasco which to be honest was quite messy and for the second match running lost a set of tennis 6-0.

The match was a mess and in all honesty if I had to rate Nishikori out of 10 based on the whole match it would be a 5. To me he seemed flat, uninterested and emotionless and he huffed, puffed and blew Verdasco away but how much does he have left in the tank?

Mid-way through the third set a statistic was thrown up when the set was level at 3-3 with Nishikori hitting 21 winners compared to 38 unforced errors and as the tournament progresses he won’t continue to get away with it and looked knackered by the end of his match but to become a genuine contender at one of these majors at some point you have find that level where you will have to play top player after top player day after day and potentially go to five sets and I don’t see it.

Next up for Kei is Andy Murray who has got much better as the week has gone on with a couple of perfect performances against Del Potro and Kacanhov in the last round and I’d expect a long battle between these two but how much does Kei have left in the tank? He has looked tired and flat and with this vibe he gives off it’s difficult for the crowd as well to get behind him as these crowds at the major tournaments react to you and if you’re flat the crowd is flat and to win these majors you need that extra push by the crowd.

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Photo credit – Getty Images

Home favourite Bellucci stuns a lost Nishikori in Rio

Kei Nishikori last week ended in Buenos Aires with defeat to Alexandar Dolgopolov in the final and from Argentina to Brazil the former US Open finalist is now out after losing his match of the tournament in Rio against home favour Thomasz Bellucci.

The Brazilian has the ability to produce some great wins and the surface and his skill just helps magnify that as he pulled off the biggest win of his career but for Kei it is back to the drawing board in what could be seen as a pivotal year for the Japanese number one who’s performance in the second set was described as ‘lost’.

First of all we are going to jump back in time to the US Open last year after his defeat to Stan Wawrinka and I wrote this piece…

Nishikori impressed against Murray but there’s still plenty of work to do to become a major contender

One word I used a lot during the piece was ‘panic’ as we saw this bizarre attempt at serve and volley which left him stranded in the centre of the court and we’ve seen it again.

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This shot is a flat serve out wide which Bellucci gets good contact on the return and even before the ball is on it’s way back to Kei he looks lost out there. He had two attempts to put this ball away for a winner and messed it up before Bellucci very cleverly sliced the ball past him. We saw this again on match point, Kei went in on the net and ended up hitting the ball wide and losing.

Another aspect which I picked up is the backhand. Kei’s backhand has two levels; brilliant or flat. We saw a mixture of both in the match but the flat one I put it down to a late reaction forcing these errors.

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Just have a look at Kei’s body as he goes to hit the ball. His body is still and there is little rotation in the body whilst moving towards the backhand. Also his feet, he looks like he is playing a game of stuck in the mud he only drags his left foot up which then put’s more empthasis on the standing leg and to generate an effective shot which little rotation or follow through is very difficult and he ended up hitting the net.

There were quite a few faults in Kei’s game and these are things as he gets into the latter stages of his career he needs to work on better but credit to Bellucci who was firing off all cylinders! The flat backhand cross court put Kei on the back foot too many times for his liking and the forehand flicked down the line was just beautiful to watch.

Federer shows how it’s done as he records his 200th top 10 win!

This year’s Australian Open is Roger Federer’s first run of competitive matches since Wimbledon. The 17 time Grand Slam champion went about 6 months without a match of competitive tennis completed turns up at Hopman Cup to play alongside Belinda Bencic and right now is the main man once again in Melbourne showing others how it’s done.

Before his match against Berdych I spoke about opportunity for Tomas but he was completely rolled off the court by the 35 year old and then for him to go and outlast Nishikori in the best of five sets is a fantastic achievement!

To do this after 6 months away from tennis shows flaws and issues in these two players’ games. There is no shame in losing to Federer but this is his first competitive week of tennis for about 7 months and two top 10 players have been defeated.

I think it just magnifies the difference in quality. Never mind the ranking of Federer, it’s a lie he is still one of the best and to win his 25th five set match and his 200th top 10 win today shows he’s still got it, he’s there to win and some still have a bit of work to do.

Grand Slam no.18 is well and truly on!

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Grigor Dimitrov wins Brisbane ahead of the first major of the year!

At the start of the week I Grigor Dimitrov looked determined. Throughout the whole of 2016 the Bulgarian won just three matches against top ten players in 365 days but in 7 days of tennis of he has matched that with wins against Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and now Kei Nishikori.

I couldn’t be more pleased for Dimitrov, I said I fancy this being a big year for him. The last couple of months of last year things started to pick up and get some good results before the season ended and his game on a whole looks tough to break down.

In the past I’ve spoken about weaknesses in his game and how I felt the backhand has gone from a strength to a weakness and over-relied on but his game has moved on so much from there and I can’t pick on a stand-out weakness!

Forehand cross-court / down the line
backhand down the line / cross court
forehand follow to the net
serve down the T / outwide

The whole performance was exceptional! I can’t pick a fault in it and right now he does look like he can keep going.

I think it is good that he isn’t playing the week before the Australian Open. Momentum is key but at the same time so is rest and recouperation. Another week of intense tennis would not be beneficial in my opinion ahead of a big major. The feeling is there take it to Melbourne and practice, youre the headline maker of the first week you don’t want an early exit prior to the first Grand Slam of the year.

Well done Grigor!grigordimitrov2017brisbaneinternationaloevmrrkykdnl

Photo credit to Getty Images

Stan or Kei, Milos or Grigor… who progresses to Brisbane final?

Sunday is final day but first we have semi-finals to deal with in Brisbane. With just four remaining only two and progress but who will end up fighting for one of the first titles of the season?

Stan Wawrinka v Kei Nishikori

This one is a good match-up. Both have gone about their business quite well in Brisbane so far with Stan’s only test being against Kyle Edmund in the previous round but came through in three sets. The Swiss number one leads the head to head at 4-3 but Nishikori won their last meeting which was one to forget for the three time Grand Slam champion who in all honesty played a very poor match at the O2 Arena which I wrote about (link below)

Clinical Kei breezes past Stan at the O2

Stan just didn’t get any depth on the court and Kei used that serve out-wide and the volley at the net well to stop him from finding rhythm on the backhand which is what he will be aiming for when they meet tomorrow on the fast hard courts in Brisbane.

Milos Raonic v Grigor Dimitrov

Both recorded very big wins in the last round. Raonic got the better of Nadal for the second time in his career over three sets and for Dimitrov his good week in Brisbane continues as he saw off Dominic Thiem for a place in the semi-final after some good performances against some top players throughout the whole week.

After his win against Raonic the Canadian was asked if he could play better and his response was it would definitely be difficult. As defending champion there is some added pressure on him to win against Dimitrov and then the final and he needs to deal with that pressure on him this year.

This is the fifth time they have met with Dimitrov winning their last three meetings and Raonic hasn’t been victorious against the Bulgarian since 2011…

 

ATP World Tour Finals Day 4 – Stan strikes back & Murray wins marathon match!

Stan still in contention!

After the shambles of his first match of the tournament against Kei Nishikori many would have thought that it may be tough to come back but the Swiss number one has kept himself in contention to qualify for the semi-finals which looks like being a shootout with Kei Nishikori with Andy Murray all but qualified.

For Marin Cilic his nightmare is over at the O2. Having played 5 matches now at the world tour finals without a win to his name and just one set won in these wins as he was downed 7-6 7-6 by Stan Wawrinka.

Marathon man wins again!

22 wins in a row. Andy Murray won a 200 minute battle with Kei Nishikori yesterday afternoon coming from a set down to win 6-7 (9-11) 6-4 6-4 against the Japanese number one who looked so strong after his first round match but now faces a fight to get to the semi-finals, how things can change!

To win from a set down in the style he did was another big achievement for the world number one winning the longest three set match at the World Tour Finals in 25 years which is quite remarkable!

How Murray can use the sliced backhand to help stop Nishikori

Andy Murray was definitely not at his very best as he saw off Marin Cilic 6-3 6-2 in his first match at the O2 this year but one aspect of the Brit’s game which frustrated and nulified the attack coming from the forehand of Cilic was that sliced backhand of Andy Murray.

Murray can defend from some incredible positions on the court which other players can only dream of and he can defend from metres behind the baseline or metres wide of the tramline, he is there!

We saw Kei dictate from the baseline and force Wawrinka to play to his tune but Murray could also do that but forces you to play extra shots and plants that seed of the doubt with the sliced backhand which keeps the ball low and forces you to create your own power and speed on the ball time and time again.

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We can above Murray going into the forehand of Cilic with that slice and getting little height on it and good depth on the court, I would also hope and expect to see him go for the slice down the line as well as with respect to Cilic I do believe Nishikori is better at playing that forehand and following it into the net than Cilic which is why I’d expect Murray to mix it up.

Murray is defending deep and there is a danger as well of Nishikori running around the slice and backing up enough to play that inside-in forehand up the line which in a situation like this it is on, high risk but is a possibility.

Dictating rhythm will be a key to who wins this. Murray needs to settle well and put his game onto the court and make him play to his rhythm and not like when we saw Kei v Stan, ok Stan wasn’t too good himself but he couldn’t break the rhythm and momentum Nishikori was playing with.

Screenshot credit to SkySports