Kei Nishikori Citi Open Win Five Encouraging Things

Nishikori

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Kei Nishikori’s win at the ATP 500 Citi Open last week, his tenth career title and third this season, was an encouraging win and sets the world No.4 up for another great U.S Open run. The Tennis Review looks at five reasons Nishikori fans should be encouraged by his run to the Citi Open title.

Kei stayed healthy all week

That achievement itself will have many Nishikori supporters cheering. Some of Nishikori’s finest moments have been ruined by injury, none more notable than when he led Rafael Nadal in the 2014 Madrid final by a set and a break before injury forced him to retire in the third set.

Most recently, Nishikori had to withdraw from Wimbledon and Halle with a calf injury and last week there were a few hairy moments when the second seed took medical time outs during his Citi Open run.

Thankfully, those time outs were nothing more than precautions and the world No.4 made it through the week. Not only that, he won the title, too.

Kei’s return game stood up to Cilic and Isner

Nishikori won that trophy with his biggest weapon at its sharpest. His return of serve held up to the biggest test of them all in the final, the Isner serve, and it came to his aid to break the Cilic serve at a crucial point of their semi-final match, after Cilic had broken back to 4-4 in the third set.

Big servers like Cilic can overwhelm even the greatest of returners on hard courts, something which Nishikori experienced in last season’s U.S Open final, and in the first sets of his Citi Open matches versus Cilic and Isner.

Cilic’s serving display that helped him win the US Open ’14 was a rare example of sustained peak performance, and usually there would be some letdown, even if just for a couple of points. Nishikori was ready for that letdown against both Cilic and Isner this time, took advantage, and then both stole the momentum and inflicted doubt into his big serving opponent’s mind to take control of the match.

Kei’s baseline game was effective, at times brilliant.

Nishikori’s rise up the ATP rankings is not just down to a return of serve- he has a great baseline game, too. The Citi Open ’15 Champ mixes up depth and angles with a variety of flat strokes and top spin, works himself into a rhythm and then lets his shot making do the talking.

Isner was on the receiving end of it from the second set onwards, and was full of praise, saying it was the best in the game and Djokovic would be worried. The Serb might be, too, suffering as he did against that baseline aggression in last year’s US Open semi-final.

Kei came back from behind twice.

Nishikori shocked the tennis world when he upset Djokovic in that semi-final match, but the high of that win was dramatically contrasted with the low of his final performance.

The maiden slam finalist was overwhelmed in the biggest match of his career, and while all credit must go to Cilic for turning up on the big occasion, Nishikori looked forlorn when he dropped the second set to go two sets to love down, and never looked like the player who had fought so hard to earn the chance compete in the title match.

The Japanese did not get down on himself though at the Citi Open, coming from behind two matches in a row. That fight is part of Nishikori’s success – he leads the tour when it comes to gutting out matches going the distance, and  he showed once again at the Citi Open that if he can hang on in there, he can not only pull himself back up and into the match, but he has a better chance than anyone of taking the win, too.

Kei stood up to the pressure of being favourite.

Nishikori has been tipped to win a Slam for a while now, and after beating Djokovic, Wawrinka and Raonic back to back at last year’s US Open he was the favorite to beat Cilic.

This time, he was also the favorite, leading Cilic 5-3 before the semi in their head to head, and he lived up to that status. He was also the favourite against Isner in the final and did not disappoint.

As the potential No.4 seed, Nishikori will once again find himself the favorite in US Open matches, and it could be in the final again. His Citi Open win shows he can handle it, and while a slam is a very different event to an ATP 500, being comfortable with the status of favorite is something that takes getting used to, and Nishikori looked like he had grown accustomed to that role as he lifted his tenth title aloft.

 

Commentary by Christian Deverille.

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