Alexander Zverev will look to make his second consecutive Masters 1000 final appearance when he takes on Kei Nishikori at the Monte Carlo Country Club. Zverev had a disappointing start to the year, particularly at the Australian Open where he exited in the third round. But his run to the Miami final (lost to Isner) has brought a turn around in form he will look to continue. Nishikori has faced a tough start to the year on the comeback road from injury, but has played some fine tennis this week. Who will reach the final?
Zverev and Nishikori have met just once so far in their careers. That match came last year at the Washington Open in the semifinals. Zverev dominated the match, winning 6-3 6-4, whilst Nishikori ended his year after a second round loss to Gael Monfils at his next tournament. Zverev also has the slight edge in terms of experience at this level. Whilst both men have contested three Masters 1000 finals, Zverev has won two whereas Nishikori lost all three.
Path to the semifinals
Zverev, seeded third in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, began his tournament in the round of 32 after a first round bye. That saw him face off against Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller, who last year upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Zverev was able to handle the often tricky Muller despite losing the first set, winning 4-6 6-3 6-2. He was again pushed to three sets by his countryman Jan-Lennard Struff, dropping the second set but advancing in three.
That victory set up a quarterfinal clash with France’s Richard Gasquet. Gasquet became the first Frenchman ever to win 500 matches on the ATP Tour this week, a testament to his fine career. He had also been playing some fine tennis, and threatened Zverev early on, winning the first set 6-4. Zverev was able to quickly level proceedings in the second, but was again under pressure in the third. He blinked first, going down a break in the seventh game. But he broke back and broke again to take the win.
Nishikori began his Monte Carlo campaign with a tough match against former Wimbledon finalist and 12th seed Tomas Berdych. It was Berdych who made the better start, winning the first set 6-4. But thereafter Nishikori was dominant, losing just three games in the second and third sets. He was more comfortable against Medvedev, winning 7-5 6-2 before he emerged triumphant from a seesawing contest with Andreas Seppi 6-0 2-6 6-3. He then won a three set battle with Marin Cilic despite failing to serve it out in the second.
How do they match up?
The battle between the two men’s backhands will be an interesting one in this match. For both men it is probably their best shot, though they use them slightly differently. Nishikori is generally more reactive with his backhand, and his groundstrokes generally, than Zverev. But he defends superbly well out of the corners when he is at his best. Zverev, who likes to take his backhand cross court with power, will have to be wary of Nishikori’s counterpunching abilities.
Zverev will also be looking to serve better than he has so far at the Monte Carlo Country Club. The German has a powerful first delivery, and a useful second serve, but has already been broken 16 times this week. Against a returner as good as Nishikori, he will need to find a way to serve with more consistency or Nishikori could overwhelm him. Nishikori will also likely look to be aggressive when given second serves to return, so a high first serve percentage will be essential for Zverev.
Both players have had to battle hard to reach the semifinals. All of Zverev’s matches have gone the distance, whilst three of Nishikori’s four have. Both have been able to find a way to win, with Zverev particularly impressive in the quarterfinals against Gasquet in the tough moments. Despite that, Nishikori will win this one. Zverev’s patterns should suit the Japanese well and the slower surface will surely aid his more defensive style. Nishikori in three sets.
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