For the third time in the past four years, Kei Nishikori is into the semifinals of the US Open. He avenged his 2014 final loss to Cilic by winning an epic five-setter against the Croat on Wednesday. The Japanese superstar has made the last eight at all the Grand Slams, but he has only progressed further than that in New York. Why does Nishikori play so well at the US Open?
Hard Court Specialist
It is no secret that the 28-year-old’s favoured surface is hard courts, which is a massive factor into the spectacular results he posts at this particular Grand Slam. 28 of his 36 top ten wins have taken place on hard courts. Although most of the season is played on this surface, it is still an impressive statistic. In addition, nine of Nishikori’s 11 titles have been won on this surface (both of his clay titles were won at Barcelona).
The way he plays is very easy on the eyes. Nishikori has impeccable timing on the ball and uses his talent to take his shots early and force his opponents immediately on to the back foot. This is how he is able to dominate players who are significantly taller than him and often get them covering more ground than he does. His return of serve is one of the best in the business and his movement is second to none. His style of play is perfectly suited to hard courts.
The Conditions Do Not Impact Him
At the age of 14, Kei Nishikori moved to Bradenton, Florida to train at the prestigious IMG Academy. There he would take his tennis to the next level and also master the English language. Conditions in Florida are brutal, and the Japanese star would have spent many years in sweltering hot temperatures.
The US Open can often produces some dangerously humid conditions that many players struggle in, and we often see numerous retirements in the first few days. The new heat rule has been used multiple times on the men’s side as players start to wilt in the heat. Luckily for Nishikori, he has grown up in conditions worst than these, so he does not struggle as much as his peers.
This point may appear an interesting one given that Kei Nishikori is not known to feed off of the crowd. Everybody knows that the most rowdy audiences on tour are found at the US Open and that can often mess with the minds of players who expect a quiet, respectful crowd.
The 28-year-old is one of the most calm players in the world and it seems like nothing gets to him. He stays very level headed throughout a match if it is going his way or not. This calmness helps Nishikori stay in his own little bubble and he blocks out everything around him. Other players may not have the same zen-like focus of the Japanese star, which may cause their level to fluctuate throughout a match. On the other hand, Nishikori will be able to keep the same level of focus no matter what is going on around him.
Kei Nishikori made his first Grand Slam breakthrough at the US Open in 2014, where he reached the final with some memorable wins along the way. His only other two Grand Slam semifinal showings have taken place here in New York, in 2016 and this year in 2018. Players often talk about how they are able to produce their best tennis at a certain location where they have enjoyed success before. Maybe Nishikori feels good vibes at the US Open?
Nishikori has a 36-59 (37%) record against the top ten throughout his career. At the US Open he is 6-1 (86%), with his only loss coming to Stan Wawrinka in the 2016 semifinal. Here in New York, Nishikori has scored wins over David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and now Marin Cilic. The Japanese superstar is able to beat the very best in the Big Apple.
Can He Win the US Open?
If the world #21 was to win a Grand Slam, it would most likely be the US Open. There is an extremely strong final four with three former champions joining Nishikori: Juan Martin del Potro, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. In fact, it is the first Grand Slam semifinal lineup with four past finalists since the Australian Open back in 2012.
The statistics are not looking good for Nishikori, who has a combined 6-30 (17%) head-to-head over the remaining men in the tournament. The good news for the 28-year-old is that he has beaten each man twice and all six of these wins have come on hard courts which must be encouraging for the #21 seed. One of those wins was a US Open semifinal against Novak Djokovic, his next opponent.
The Japanese superstar feels at home on hard courts, especially those in New York. He is able to produce his best tennis here, beat the best and maybe his time has come. Kei Nishikori has his work cut out, but he can win the US Open.