For a player who is nimble-footed on the court and has a baseline game to go toe to toe with anyone, the Japanese star, Kei Nishikori, has surprisingly struggled at Roland Garros. To put that into context, he has never made it past the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
Nishikori has two titles on clay to date, both coming in Barcelona in 2014 and 2015. His bid for a third title on the trot was ended by Rafael Nadal in the final of 2016. It’s not as if the Japanese performs badly on clay; the memory of Madrid final against Nadal in 2014 is still etched in any tennis fan. Nishikori had to sadly pull out after being clearly hampered by an injury.
French Open Record
Nishikori had a 19-8 record before this year at the French Open, with two quarterfinals appearance in 2015 and 2017. He has been guilty of losing to players to whom he shouldn’t have. While he can be excused for having lost to Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he probably should have made it past Martin Klizan in 2014 and Richard Gasquet in 2016.
In 2015, he seemed to be on the verge of a fantastic comeback against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before bowing out in the fifth set. Two years later, the Japanese No.1 seemed to be peaking at the right time and anyone who watched the first set against Andy Murray in the quarterfinal would never have predicted what came next. It was a complete capitulation from Nishikori, ultimately losing 6-2 1-6 6-7(0-7) 1-6.
Last year, he lost in four sets to Dominic Thiem, now called by some the “Prince of Clay.”
Kei Nishikori is one of the few deserving players to have never won a Major or a Masters 1000; however, if the tennis world in the foreseeable future shifts to a one-set shootout, Kei Nishikori would have had a completely different career. The Japanese man would likely feel at home in such a format because that is what describes the Japanese’s overall game. Nishikori can redline his game for one set or one-and-a-half sets at times .but as the match goes on–especially against the top players–his serve slows down and he begins to commit uncharacteristic errors.
On clay, this issue is amplified, since, without strong and consistent play from the baseline, it’d be tough to go all the way. Remember the first set at Rome 2016 against Novak Djokovic? The Serb had beaten Nadal in the quarters and was riding a massive wave of confidence. Djokovic was blown away in the first set by the sheer quality and the accuracy of Nishikori’s groundstrokes from both wings. He looked in prime position to run away with the match but lost in a third set tiebreak 7-5.
Nishikori’s serve has always been his Achilles heel, and it has let him down. Double faults at critical times have not helped his case. Not carrying a particularly tall frame, he finds it tough to bag free points with his serve which becomes vital on a surface like clay.
His backhand has been found wanting at times as well on the red dirt, particularly against left-handers who are more than happy to run the ball down with topspin to his backhand. Unlike Djokovic, the Japanese man hasn’t quite mastered the art of consistently sending down backhands with interest.
Roland Garros 2019
Nishikori breezed through his first round match against the Frenchman Quentin Halys 6-2 6-3 6-4. The draw seems favorable for the Japanese No. 1, but as he enters the second week he may very well find a nigh impossible task on hand to better his quarterfinal record at Roland Garros–to beat Rafael Nadal. On his day, Nishikori has the game to trouble anyone, including the Spaniard. Hopefully if they meet it won’t be one-way traffic, and Nishikori can show everyone why he’s highly regarded in the tennis circuit.
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