While many may have expected the latest reiteration of the Novak Djokovic-Wawrinka rivalry at this year’s US Open semi-finals, they have instead been dealt another compelling match-up with Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori across the net from the 2011 champion. This contest will serve as a rubber match, after the two split their previous encounters back in 2010-11. They were scheduled to break that tie in the head-to-head series in Miami this season but Nishikori was forced to withdraw from the match-up. Check out the Djokovic vs Nishikori Head to Head.
In one of the more entertaining match-ups that took place over the past fortnight in New York, Novak Djokovic outlasted an in-form Andy Murray to reach his eighth consecutive US Open semi-final. The two split tiebreakers in the opening sets before Djokovic burst into a hefty 6-2, 6-4 lead to close out the match 7-6(1), 6-7(1) 6-2, 6-4 in 3 hours and 1 2minutes.
While Djokovic was eventually victorious in the encounter, he had early opportunities to win the first two sets but allowed Murray to work his way back into the match.
“I thought I could win both of the first two sets before getting to tiebreak,” said Djokovic. “I served at 4-2 first set, served at 3-2 up, 4-3-up I think in the second with break. But Andy is always putting in additional pressure on your serve. I dropped by 5, 10% of the first serves in percentage. He started going for his shots. First second shot he put a lot of pressure. I backed up, started makes unforced errors, and match turned around.”
The positives from the encounter were that Djokovic was able to maintain a high pace with Murray and outlast him physically. While that had not traditionally been the case, it is a positive sign for his upcoming encounter.
“It was very physical. I’m happy that I managed to pull it through physically in the end and to kind of stay strong, even though it was frustrating in moments, because I don’t think I played at a level that I wanted to play on in important moments. But, again, it’s great to end it, because we always push each other to the limits and we push each others’ service games. We step in on the second, and so that’s what makes you go for your first serve. When you start missing, you get a little bit tight, a little bit passive, and that’s what happened.”
While Nishikori cruised through his first few matches at Flushing Meadows, he more than made up for the time in his last two marathon matches, first against Milos Raonic, then against Stan Wawrinka. The longer of the two affairs, against Raonic, ended at 2:26am ET, which ties the record for the latest finish at the US Open. While he looked to be down for the count in both matches, Nishikori managed to gather himself up and will himself to victory.
Against Wawrinka, Nishikori rallied from a set down and eventually pushed the match to five sets before toppling the Australian Open champion 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4.
“I always love to play five sets,” Nishikori said. “I think I have good records for, you know, winning third or fifth sets. It’s not like I love to play five sets, but I have a lot of confidence to play in the fifth. I get more concentration and my tennis is getting better playing in the fourth or fifth sets. Yeah, these two match, it’s gonna help for sure.”
While casual fans were clamouring for a Djokovic vs Wawrinka clash, this match-up could undoubtedly bring with it the same entertainment value, as well as a possibility for a new star to break through. With the series tied at 1-1, there is very little apart from Grand Slam experience that separates the two athletes.
Nishikori won their most recent match-up, yet it took place nearly three years ago near the end of a hectic season for world No. 1. The obvious edge lies with Djokovic, but that does not mean his route to the final will be a comfortable one.
Prediction: Novak Djokovic in Four Sets