Kei Brings 'A' Game, Ousts In-Form Kyrgios
Kei Nishikori has historically struggled to find his best tennis on grass, arriving at Wimbledon with a 32-32 record on the surface according to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record. But that has not mattered this week at SW19.
The No. 24 seed raced past in-form No. 15 seed Nick Kyrgios 6-1, 7-6(3), 6-4 in one hour, 37 minutes on Saturday to earn his 350th tour-level win and reach the fourth round at the All England Club for the third time.
"[I] played very solid I think from the beginning... I think I returned really well. I was able to make many first serves and also second serves, too. [I] tried to attack a little bit," Nishikori said. "Everything was working well, so very happy to win like this today."
Former World No. 4 Nishikori, who struggled last season with a wrist injury, has increasingly moved closer to his top level. He began his campaign at two ATP Challenger Tour events in January, and has since advanced to the final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and with his efforts at SW19 he has now reached the Round of 16 at two consecutive Grand Slams.
Kyrgios arrived at Wimbledon in position to make a deep run on the grass, reaching the semi-finals at both the MercedesCup and the Fever-Tree Championships, suffering narrow losses against Roger Federer and Marin Cilic, respectively. But he never found a rhythm, falling to 0-4 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Nishikori.
"I was struggling. I didn't serve well. I didn't feel good from the ground. I almost couldn't move. My footwork was terrible. Just a bad day, I guess," Kyrgios admitted. "He played well, though. He returned really well. Most guys aren't getting a racquet or putting balls back in [the court] off my serve most of the time. He was returning well."
Nishikori did a good job of keeping the Aussie from dominating the match with his serve. Typically, Kyrgios wins many free points on both his first and second serves, but that was not the case Saturday evening as day turned to night. Nishikori was able to neutralise points with his return, and once the players were engaged in baseline-to-baseline rallies, it was advantage Nishikori. The 28-year-old claimed 52 per cent of second-serve return points en route to the victory.
"I felt great this morning. Hit the ball fine. As soon as I got out there, I just didn't feel good. I don't know what it was. I mean, he played well. I always find it tough playing him," Kyrgios said. "I was pretty uptight. A lot of nerves. I just struggled with a lot of things today. I just never settled. Obviously getting broken [in the] first game didn't help me. I just kind of panicked. Everything just went south."
Nishikori will face qualifier Ernests Gulbis with a maiden quarter-final appearance on the hallowed grass on the line. The pair's only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting came four years ago at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where Nishikori triumphed in straight sets.
Did You Know?
Nishikori has now won three consecutive grass-court tour-level matches for the sixth time in his career.