In perhaps the pick of the quarterfinals, defending champion Alexander Zverev takes on 2015 champion Kei Nishikori. Zverev has had another impressive, if slightly inconsistent year, highlighted by the Madrid Open title and a Roland Garros quarterfinal. Nishikori, who made his return from a wrist problem in February, has also had a fine season, reaching the final in Monte Carlo and his first Wimbledon quarterfinal. But who will reach the last four?
Nishikori and Zverev have met twice so far in their careers, with both matches coming within the last twelve months. The first was also contested in Washington as they faced off last year in the semifinals. Zverev won fairly comfortably, defeating Nishikori 6-3 6-4 in what proved to be the Japanese’s penultimate tournament of 2017. Nishikori exacted his revenge in Monte Carlo in the semifinals earlier this season, battling past Zverev 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Path to the quarterfinals
Both men were the recipients of byes in the first round as seeds. That saw Zverev open his campaign against Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri, who had snapped a three-match losing streak in the first round by defeating Evgeny Donskoy. But Zverev was entirely untroubled in beating him 6-2 6-1. That set up a clash with his elder brother, Mischa, their first on Tour. After winning the first set comfortably, the younger Zverev was tested more in the second, but broke late to win 6-3 7-5.
Nishikori began his Washington Open against Donald Young. Young had inflicted a further setback on three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in his continuing attempt to return to the top of the game after a knee injury. Young never looked like repeating the upset against Nishikori, however, falling 3-6 4-6 despite some late resistance. Nishikori then avenged his Acapulco loss to Denis Shapovalov, besting the young Canadian 7-6 6-3.
How do they match up?
Zverev and Nishikori are both excellent baseliners although rather different in style. Zverev looks to control matches from the back of the court with his heavy hitting and there are few players who can match him for power. Nishikori certainly can’t, but he is a counterpuncher of the first order and one of the best movers in the game. He is also able to step into the court and dictate, with his forehand his most effective offensive weapon.
The key to this match will, however, be the backhand battle. Zverev possesses surely the most powerful two-hander in the game, and he relies on it to do most of the damage to his opponents. But Nishikori is also equipped with a fine backhand, and only Djokovic defends better out of the backhand corner than him. Zverev will have his work cut out if he wants to impose himself with his crosscourt backhand, and he will have to watch for the Nishikori backhand down the line.
This promises to be an extremely tight match. Both men have played well so far, but have not been perfect. Nishikori has at times sprayed too many unforced errors and Zverev’s focus and intensity dropped alarmingly in the second set against his brother, which very nearly cost him the set. But Nishikori, having been the more focused and with the tools to blunt Zverev’s attack, should have the slight edge. Expect him to oust Zverev after three tight sets.