ATP World Tour Finals 2015: Blistering Kei Nishikori downs Stan Wawrinka in race for No3
Kei Nishikori beat Stan Wawrinka in straight sets in his opening match of the ATP World Tour Finals 2016 in London
With all the excitement surrounding the world Nos1 and 2—the fight between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic for the top spot at the World Tour Finals this year—the task of the other players in London to grab the headlines has not been an easy one.
Yet the two men who opened proceedings in Murray’s group, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, promised to produce a contest of the highest quality between two of the most popular players on the tour, and were also playing for their own piece of glory: the No3 ranking.
The two had split their last four matches. Nishikori beat the Swiss in Toronto in August, Wawrinka gained revenge on his way to the US Open title in September.
Both had made it to London before, both had reached the semi-finals—though big-time player Wawrinka had reached the semis in all three visits.
But while Wawrinka had gone off the boil since his outstanding run in New York and an unexpected outing to make the final of St Petersburg a week later, Nishikori had paced himself well since his own run at the US Open where he beat Murray to reach the semis.
Indeed it had been a well-paced season, with victory over Wawrinka to reach the Toronto Masters final, and wins over both Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils to win the bronze medal in Rio.
He also made the final in Miami early in the year and the final in Basel as the tour moved indoors. The Japanese star, who gets mobbed wherever he appears in his home country, thus came to London third on the list of indoor success after Murray and Djokovic.
But there is always huge support for the shot-making Wawrinka, and the crowds at the O2 arena clearly expected fireworks. So as the errors from the Swiss racket cranked up, the cheers of encouragement grew.
However, Nishikori, such a fast and nimble mover, can also unleash great pace from his blur of a ball-strike. He broke in the fifth game, held for 4-2, and then took advantage of two double faults from Wawrinka to break again. With just 30 minutes on the clock, the Japanese man served out the set, 6-2. Shot-maker par excellence Wawrinka had made only four winners.
The second set began at just as high a pace. Wawrinka seemed to be constantly on the back foot, even losing a quick-fire backhand exchange. Even so, he defended deuce for 2-2, and was offered an opening as Nishikori’s serve let him down for break point in the fifth game.
But the Swiss could not convert, and amid another wave of errors, he himself was facing break point. Nishikori fired a return-of-serve winner onto the baseline to convert, and held to love with an ace.
Wawrinka arrived in London with strapping on his left knee, and admitted he had carried a niggle since before Basel—but said things were now fine. There were, though, growing signs that he was struggling to get lift on his serve and to chase down drop shots. And he afterwards admitted that his movement was not perfect:
“I don’t think I find anything on the court today. I was a little bit slow on everything. I was hesitating a lot with my game, my movement… I thought I could play at a better level today. I was expecting a good match.”
With an hour on the clock, Nishikori held for 5-3, and finished the job, 6-3, as three Swiss backhands found the net, the last of a tally of 31 errors compared with 12 winners.
So it was something of a lack-lustre conclusion, and Wawrinka beat a hasty retreat from the court after just 67 minutes on the court.
Up for grabs this week is not just the No1 ranking but the No3 ranking, in a three-way race between Nishikori, Wawrinka and Raonic. For the Japanese man, it would mark a new career high, which he admitted was one of his goals for this week.
“Well, I’m not thinking too much about rankings, but would be nice if I could finish four or three. That’s one of my goals this week. Also next year I hope I can stay No4 or No3, try to catch up Andy and Novak.”
In this kind of form, it is just possible that he could reach the rarefied heights achieved only by the ‘big four’ of Djokovic, Murray, Roger Federer and Nadal, plus Wawrinka and David Ferrer.
On either Wednesday or Friday, though, he will have to play Murray, and will take some confidence from his gritty five-set win over the Briton in New York—as well as his close five-set loss in Davis Cup in early spring.
“Obviously it’s the toughest match maybe in this group. Yeah, for sure I have to play well and play 100 percent to beat Andy. This match will help, for sure.”