Another Masters events and another surprising Final Four – remember when it used to be the same guys every week? There’s Novak Djokovic back again, so too is David Goffin and newcomer Nick Kyrgios plus Kei Nishikori. That, after an interesting final day of quarterfinal play.
In the matinee, Kei Nishikori solved a steady, restrained Gael Monfils by saving no fewer than five matchpoints to prevail 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(3).
After overcoming a set down, Nishikori had control of the match lead 4-2 in the third, especially with Monfils look weary. But things fell apart for the Japenese behind some great shotmaking from the Frenchman (and Kei). And things came to a head with Nishikori serving to stay in the match at 4-5, 0-40. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“When I was down 4-5, love-40, I thought it was going to be it,” Nishikori said. “It was going to be tough to come back. I tried to play one point at time.
“I saw that he was down a little bit in the tie-break, so I tried to be focused. I did pretty well in the tie-break.”
And I agree, Nishikori had no business winning that match so credit to him for fighting back the way he did. But he should never have lost that break lead in the third.
Monfils has really matured for whatever reason this season – maybe Swedish coach Mikael Tillstrom has finally got him on track. Monfils is almost 30 so it might be a little too late to make a move toward the top, but good for him. He’s playing some of the best, most consistent tennis of his career. That said, when you have 0-40 and three match points you have to convert. He didn’t and he’s out of the tournament.
“At 3-4 I really raised my level,” Monfils said. “I started to be very aggressive, started to go for it, and still had the strong feeling that I could make it.
“At the end, I pushed very hard and definitely had an opportunity to close it out, but Kei fought well. In the tie-break he was just better than me.”
In the night match, Nick Kyrgios continued to prove why he’s the next superstar in tennis by dismantling Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6. Kyrgios, got a quick break, kept up the aggression (and the courtside conversations) against the mild-mannered Milos who was trying to reach his second straight Masters Series semifinal. But the Canadian couldn’t get a read on the Kyrgios serve.
“I came out really energetic and got pretty lucky,” Kyrgios said. “That definitely made me more relaxed.”
So the semifinals are set: Novak Djokovic against David Goffin and then in the evening it’s Nishikori against Kyrgios. On to my picks.
Novak Djokovic v David Goffin
In a true “David v Goliath” matchup, I’m sure there aren’t many picking Goffin here. Unlike Cincinnati last summer where Djokovic has never won, Djokovic is a 5-time Miami champion winning his last 14. And if Goffin can’t close out the Serb from 3-0 up and serving on Novak’s worst Masters court, how is he going to beat him tomorrow?
“I have nothing to lose,” said Goffin. “He won almost everything this year. He’s playing unbelievable tennis at the moment. But I played a great match against him last year in Cincinnati, and it could be interesting to watch the match.”
Goffin shouldn’t re-watch that. Well, maybe just the second and first 10 minutes of the third.
Meanwhile, Djokovic, who leads Goffin 3-0, doesn’t need to rewatch anything. He just needs to play his game and I think that’s what happens here. The speedy Goffin has some firepower – he’s not just a counterpuncher – so if Djokovic keeps balls short it could become an issue. But at just 2-25 v Top 10, I don’t think the Belgian even believes he has a chance here.
The one thing of concern for Djokovic is his back. We saw him have some issues Wednesday night. He says they’re nothing but we’ll find out if that’s really the case or just spin.
So Goffin sounds more than happy to have made back-to-back Masters semifinals at Indian Wells and now Miami. He has to be satisfied. Djokovic, though, isn’t.
The pick: Djokovic in two
Kei Nishikori v Nick Kyrgios
In the night match, the question becomes just how well Nishikori can recover from that grueling 2.5 hour cliffhanger against Monfils?
We know of Nishikori’s history with retirements and other health issues, so this is a legitimate concern. And compounding the concern is the kid across the net.
Kyrgios is hot. He hasn’t lost a set and he just won Marseille last month. And he seems like a streaky kind of player, with that up-tempo style. And the 20-year-old is into his first career Masters semifinal, a stage I don’t think will bother the youngster one bit.
Kyrgios also has the crushing serve, the powerful groundies and he’s got good wheels around the court. So he’s got a lot of weaponry.
But if Nishikori is physically and mentally ok – a big if with him – he’s the all-around better player. And he’s got the experience.
As we saw today, Nishikori is so tough in final sets and that backhand of his is second only to Djokovic’s.
“Kei is one of the greatest players in the world at the moment,” said Kyrgios. “He has an unbelievable return of serve, moves unbelievably fast, hits big from the baseline, and doesn’t have many weaknesses.
“When I played him in Shanghai I didn’t really do too much wrong. He just played a really well in the big moments. I definitely had chances. I know what my game plan is going to be. It’s going to be a tough match, but I’m looking forward to it. He’s a great guy.”
Kyrgios did get a set the only time they played in a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss in Shanghai, so I expect another tough match especially is Kei’s struggling. But unless there’s a health issue, experience should win out over youth.
The pick: Nishikori in 3
ESPN will have live coverage of both semifinals at 1pm and at 7pm.
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