On paper, the first round match between Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori has the potential to be one of the best of the tournament. They face off on Monday afternoon with Djokovic desperately looking for form after an uninspiring return to the tour after injury. The two-time champion is still seeded 10th but a tough draw may see him need to beat Nishikori, David Goffin and Grigor Dimitrov to make the final four.
Djokovic fell to 5-5 on the year with a surprising loss in the opening round of Barcelona to Martin Klizan. Four of those losses have come to players ranked outside the top 40 with Klizan being outside the top 100. There were signs of improvement in Monte Carlo with a three setter against Dominic Thiem but he failed to build on it, being outlasted by another player far inferior to him.
Nishikori’s comeback has been far more fruitful with a Monte Carlo final run in his return to the clay this spring. Like everyone else, he was soundly beaten by Rafael Nadal in the final. While he lost in Barcelona the next week, that run provided a lot of confidence for the Japanese, who will hope to take back the Asian No.1 ranking from Hyeon Chung later on in the year. “I think I just need some more confidence. Well, for sure this week going to help a lot with my confidence. Playing with top players: Tomas, Cilic, beating Sascha yesterday too. That gives me a lot of confidence.” he said in Monte Carlo.
Nishikori hasn’t had a great deal of success against Djokovic recently with a current 9 match losing streak against the Serbian and just 2 wins in 13 overall. If he cannot defeat a vulnerable Djokovic in this state, it will be hard to predict when he will.
Prediction – Kei Nishikori in three sets