This is a meeting between two players who haven’t fought at the top level in nearly four years, mainly due to Nishikori’s injury-related issues. With that being said, Nishikori has been improving his game in recent weeks, with a strong pair of victories in Barcelona before falling to the eventual winner Rafael Nadal. The same can’t be said for Zverev, who hasn’t made it past the second round in three tournaments. However, Zverev’s strong groundstrokes combined with Nishikori’s high-risk high-reward style of play will surely result in an epic contest to watch.
- Zverev leads the head to head 2-1 (Last match: Zverev d. Nishikori @ Washington Open 2018)
- Nishikori is 8-8 in 2021, with a notable three-set win against Cristian Garin
- Zverev is 14-8 in 2021, with a notable run to the QF’s of the Australian Open 2021
- Nishikori is 3-1 on clay in 2021
- Zverev is 2-2 on clay in 2021
KEI NISHIKORI - KEYS TO THE MATCH
Kei Nishikori is in fine form as of the Barcelona Open, boasting wins over Pella and Garin - and briefly holding a lead in the final set over Rafael Nadal - before falling in the third round. He is riding on the back of a not-so-straightforward win over baseliner Karen Khachanov, but he can definitely take some tips from that match to use against Zverev. Nishikori needs to make use of his attacking tennis and stomp all over Zverev’s short balls with angled groundstrokes. If he can maintain a high level of play throughout the match and pressure the Zverev serve, he could take the match in 2 or 3 close sets.
Round 1 | def. Khachanov 6-7(6) 6-2 6-2
ALEXANDER ZVEREV - KEYS TO THE MATCH
Zverev needs to find his rhythm fast on the clay if he is going to have a chance at beating Nishikori. Zverev does have the advantage of power on both of his wings, but he needs his first and second serves to tie his game together. Other than that, he should use the slice to limit Nishikori’s aggression and force him to take higher levels of risk on the uneven clay bounce. He should also make use of his gargantuan frame by approaching the Nishikori forehand as much as possible.
This match is hard to call. Nishikori did take a set off of Rafa in Barcelona, but the Japanese needs to bring the same level of intensity and firepower against Zverev to be sure of a victory. At their respective bests, Zverev would likely edge out a victory over Nishikori because of his sheer firepower and size. However, Zverev is nowhere near his best form on the clay, both physically and mentally. The German lost to the world number 107 Ilya Ivashka, who also happened to take a set off of Nadal on the Clay. With Nishikori’s rising form and Zverev’s respective decline, look for the former to take this battle in two tight sets.
Prediction: Nishikori in 2 sets
Written by: Vikram Khandelwal