ATP World Tour Finals 2014: Unrelenting Djokovic downs Nishikori
Novak Djokovic beats Kei Nishikori 6-1 3-6 6-0 to reach the final of the ATP World Tour Finals
The slender, youthful figure of Kei Nishikori seems to have spent most of 2014 making headlines: the highest-ranked Asian man, at No5, of all time, the first to end the year in the top 10, the first to qualify for the ATP World Tour finals, the first to contest a Grand Slam final…
And so it has gone on for the 5ft10in 24-year-old making his debut not just at the season’s finale but now in the semi-finals too.
But he has been a man of contrasts. On the one hand, he has missed opportunities for still higher ranking through assorted injuries. He beat Roger Federer in Miami only to withdraw with a groin injury before the semis. In Madrid, he retired in the final with back problems and went on to withdraw from Rome. He missed Toronto with a toe injury and then had hip problems in Tokyo.
Yet Nishikori, who credits his coach, former Grand Slam champion Michael Chang, with improving his fitness and endurance this season, has another claim to fame. He has the best decisive set win-loss record in the Open era, and the best this season, with a 21-2 success rate in third or fifth set deciders.
His first Major final run, at the US Open, proves the point: He beat Milos Raonic in five in the fourth round, Stan Wawrinka in five in the quarters, Novak Djokovic in four in the semis, and played five tie-breakers, too. No wonder he could not dig deep enough to beat Marin Cilic in the final.
Djokovic took some revenge on the nimble, fleet-footed, clean-striking Nishikori in Paris a couple of weeks back, but such has been the flair, speed and focus of the Japanese man in rising from No22 in March to knock on the door of No4 should he manage one more victory in London, that this semi-final contest was full of intrigue.
But the Serb was in stunning form, and surely on a psychological high: In reaching the semis here, he had extended his indoor streak to 30, his 2014 match-wins to 60, sealed the year-end No1, and set a new record for fewest games lost in the round-robin phase, at just nine.
In short, he looked unstoppable. And in the first set, that was just the case. From the moment he raced the net to win the first point to serving out to 15 at the end, he barely put a foot wrong, 6-1, in 23 minutes.
He dropped only two points on serve, and ended with 27 points to just 11 for Nishikori.
The match looked a foregone conclusion when the Japanese man opened the second set with a double fault and offered up an immediate break, but Djokovic went off the boil just a touch, and a double fault on break point handed the break back.
Now the tennis rose the occasion, with Nishikori showing just what speed and flair he has on a court—and the fans loved it
Just as he had earlier in the tournament, Nishikori needed some strapping on a troublesome right wrist at 3-4, but he came out and harried Djokovic on both wings, played a glorious drop shot, and then passed the racing Serb to break in eighth game.
The O2 almost erupted, and a couple of aces carried him to an easy hold and the set, 6-3, with a tally of 10 winners to just three from Djokovic.
Djokovic may or may not have been aware of his opponent’s record in deciding sets, and the warning bells rang when he went 15-40 down in the opening game of the third. Either way, the Serb determined to take control again. Four straight points, and he held, then broke, and made the decisive break in the fourth.
There was no way back for Nishikori, whose energy and spirit looked spent. He double faulted on match point, and Djokovic advanced to the final, 6-0, in a speedy hour and 27 minutes.
Nishikori can take some consolation for being the only man to far this week to win a set from the mighty Serb, and he was pragmatic about his performance afterwards: “I was playing well. Even first couple points in third set, I thought I had it. I think I start thinking too much about he’s No1 player, Novak. I think I risked too much. I think I did too many unforced errors first couple games. Then he start playing better. It’s very disappointing because I think if I little bit change I could be I think little more closer in the third set. But it was good one week.”
In truth, the defending champion also looked weary, perhaps as a result of playing back-to-back days for the first time in the tournament.
But he is now in his fourth final at this tournament—and he has gone on to win the title on all three previous occasions.
He would have to wait a few hours to discover the last player between him and the trophy for a third straight year. Roger Federer and Wawrinka kick off the second semi at 8pm.