One more match to go during this first quarter of 2016, and it’s a good one. At least I think it will be, provided the weather cooperates. The task of stopping Novak Djokovic falls to Kei Nishikori who proved the doubters wrong 18 months ago when he shocked the tennis world beating Djokovic in the 2014 US Open semifinals.
Can he do it again?
First, looking back to yesterday both guys played just well enough in reaching the final.
Djokovic withstood a really good effort from David Goffin who few gave any chance to. But the Belgian actually had chances to take that first set and in that kind of heat and humidity, had he done it, who knows?
If you can step in the court, like Goffin did, and attack Djokovic you can find success. And have some help from the weather! In the end, Djokovic was too damn resilient winning 7-6(5), 6-4 and goes through to his seventh Miami final, 40th at the Masters series.
In evening, Nishikori jumped out early on first-time Masters semifinalist Nick Kyrgios and I felt that was it. The Australian mounted a charge in the second after being down a break but it wasn’t enough. Nishikori was too complete, too experienced and thanks to a some strong returning took it 6-3, 7-5.
But Kyrgios will be back and of two, he’ll win more of these type of titles than Nishikori.
So the final of the last hardcourt event for almost four months is set.
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
It’s their first final meeting which surprised me because I thought I would have seen a few of these by now. But Kei hasn’t found that week-in, week-out consistency yet.
In this series, Djokovic has won six of eight meetings winning the last five since Nishikori’s big US Open win. Djokovic routed Nishikori recently at the ATP Finals in London in November and again this January in Melbourne.
“We have played against each other so many times that maybe the occasion of being in the final can influence, you know, in a very small percentage his kind of mental approach and preparation for the match,” Djokovic said of Nishikori. “But he looks very mature on the court, very experienced, as well. He’s somebody that has been around and played so many, you know, matches in the big stage. I don’t see him being too overwhelmed or nervous about the occasion.”
And like Melbourne, Miami is another court Djokovic is awfully comfortable on – he’s won the title four of the last five years! And of course Djokovic is more than accustomed to these big Masters Series final – he’s reached 11 straight I think it is!
Meanwhile, Nishikori is in his second such final looking for that first trophy. Of course if not for his back in Madrid, he would have had it.
So the numbers, the head-to-head are again all in Djokovic’s favor. But there’s one thing might not be: The weather!
If it’s warm and sticky again, maybe that becomes the great equalizer here. We saw Djokovic have some struggles against Goffin in the heat of the day. And remember that US Open match was also played in some stifling heat.
Otherwise, Nishikori’s going to have to hope Djokovic has an off day because Novak is the superior player in every category.
“It was evident that we both struggled with conditions today,” Djokovic said Friday after beating Goffin.
“I think we were both really trying to catch some breath, you know, after some points. It was windy, it was humid, it was warm. It was like everything was thrown out there on us to kind of resist that. And to overcome those obstacles and conditions was something that I’m proud of, and I managed to stay tough I think in the right moments”
That said, with Djokovic on top I think these two guys are the best two handers in the business right now. So if Kei can break down Novak’s and force some errors, that could break down the rest of Djokovic’s game. Much easier said that done, though.
And if it is brutally hot, the first set becomes that much more important. So I would look for Nishikori to try and sneak a quick break or at the least be extremely offensive early.
In addition to the weather, another bonus for Kei is the fact he had a day off today to help him recover from that big win Thursday over Monfils plus the match yesterday, which wasn’t anywhere as taxing.
So Kei (and Novak as well) should come in fresh and without fear having beaten Novak already on the big stage.
“I have confidence to play him,” Nishikori said. “If I can be aggressive and play (well), I have a chance. I have to play 100 percent or 120 percent to have a chance to beat him, but I will try my best.
“He’s at another level right now,” he added. “He doesn’t have much weakness. He’s very patient. He doesn’t give you any free points.
“I have to focus almost every point if I want to beat him. That’s the toughest thing against him. And he has been serving well. I have to return well, serve well — everything has to be there to beat him.”
Again, if it’s very hot and heavy, that should help Nishikori. If it’s not, then I expect Djokovic to get No. 63 comfortably. Regardless, hard to pick against the trend and that trend, my friends, is Djokovic.
The pick: Djokovic in two
ESPN2 will have live coverage of the men’s final at 1pm ET Sunday.
And congratulations to Victoria Azarenka for completing the “Sunshine Double” beating Svetlana Kuznetsova to win her third Miami title.
After much speculation as to who will take over women’s tennis once Serena falls (and she’s falling), I think we have that answer loud and clear, it’s Azarenka.
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