In a battle between a current and former member of the top ten, Juan Martin del Potro takes on Kei Nishikori for a place in the Miami Open round of 16. Del Potro is in some of the best form of his life, having won his last 12 matches in a run that’s seen him win back-to-back titles in Acapulco and Indian Wells. Nishikori has had a mixed start to the year, no surprise after his injury wracked 2017. But who will come out on top?
The pair have met seven times over the course of their careers, with del Potro leading the head-to-head five wins to two. Their first meeting came a decade ago at the US Open in the fourth round when del Potro defeated the teenaged Nishikori in straight sets to reach the quarterfinals. He also won their next three matches, including at Wimbledon in 2012 in the third round and at the London Olympics. Nishikori picked up his first win in 2016 in Basel in the quarterfinals.
Nishikori and del Potro also clashed twice last year. The first match came on the clay courts of the Italian Open in Rome in the round of 16. The Argentine won that battle in straight sets 7-6 6-3, though he was well-beaten in his next match by Djokovic. Nishikori had his revenge during the North American hard court swing. The two met in the Washington Open round of 16 with the Japanese coming out on top 6-4 7-5 in a clash of former champions.
Path to the third round
Both men, as seeds, received byes into the second round. That saw del Potro commence his Miami campaign against Robin Haase of the Netherlands. It was del Potro that struck first, breaking his opponent midway through the first set and sealing it 6-4 shortly after. But Haase came out swinging in the second and a succession of breaks as the set neared its close left him on top and the score line level. But del Potro broke twice in the decider to take a 6-4 5-7 6-2 win.
Nishikori began his Miami Open against Australia’s John Millman. Millman is becoming an increasingly regular feature in ATP main draws, though he still had to qualify into Miami. He did so and then defeated Peter Gojowczyk to reach the main draw. He battled hard against Nishikori, but the Japanese world #33 just edged him in the first set, winning it in a tiebreak. Undeterred Millman levelled the match, but in the decider one break settled it in Nishikori’s favour.
How do they match up?
If Nishikori’s defensive skills are sufficient to neutralise del Potro’s attacking prowess then the Japanese will win the match. If not then it will be del Potro that reaches the fourth round. Nishikori is amongst the best defenders in the game. He is comfortable when pushed into both his forehand and backhand corner and excels in turning defence into attack. However, he is not only a counterpuncher and he can tee off with his groundstrokes to good effect.
He doesn’t have anything like the power of his opponent. Del Potro possesses the biggest forehand currently in the game, and it has been firing over the past few weeks. It was of vital importance in his back-to-back successes in Acapulco and Indian Wells. However, his backhand has also earned notice. For the first time since he returned from double wrist surgery, del Potro is hitting over the ball with authority, giving him a two-pronged attack once again. That is something Nishikori will have to be wary of.
At his best Nishikori would have a real chance to stop the Argentine in his tracks. But Nishikori is not at his best, though he showed good fight to get through the challenge of John Millman. The world #6, however, will have too much power for the Japanese to handle. There is a reason del Potro is currently the form player in the men’s game, and he has showed of late, that he has what it takes even when the going is at its toughest. Del Potro in three sets.
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