In a clash between one of the game’s most established names and one of its brightest young stars, Kei Nishikori takes on Denis Shapovalov for a place in the Washington quarterfinals. Nishikori won the title in DC in 2015 and has been playing some fine tennis this season, reaching the final in Monte Carlo and the last eight at Wimbledon for the first time. Shapovalov, however, has been scoring some impressive wins of his own. Who will come out on top?
Despite Shapovalov’s comparatively recent arrival on the Tour, he and Nishikori have met once previously. That match came earlier this year in Acapulco, which was only Nishikori’s second Tour-level event of the season as he embarked on a comeback from a wrist injury that had kept him out for most of the second-half of 2017. Nonetheless, the Japanese made a fine start, winning the first set. But thereafter it was all Shapovalov with the Canadian advancing a 6-7 6-3 6-1 winner.
Path to the third round
Both men are seeded and thus began their tournaments in the second round. For Nishikori that meant his opening assignment was against Donald Young, who had arrived in Washington with only two Tour-level wins to his name for the season, but had conquered three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka 6-4 6-7 7-6 in the first round. Against Nishikori, however, he was outclassed despite a fine effort, with the seventh seed winning through 6-3 6-4.
Shapovalov, seeded ninth, began his Washington campaign against Russia’s Daniel Medvedev, who had saved a match point to deny Yosuke Watanuki in the first round. But in the second round, it was Medvedev who had victory snatched away at the last moment. He made a fine start, winning the first set, only for Shapovalov to roar back into the contest and level the match. In the decider, however, it was Medvedev who broke first, only for Shapovalov to again come back and win 3-6 6-1 6-4.
How do they match up?
Nishikori is amongst the most gifted all-court players of his generation although he is most comfortable at the baseline. His groundstrokes are excellent. Nishikori attacks best with his forehand and defends most effectively with his backhand where his open stance defence in the corners is second only to Novak Djokovic’s. His serve is, however, a weakness, particularly when he misses his first. Shapovalov would do well to exploit that.
The Canadian certainly has the weapons to do so. His forehand is superb, and he is comfortable both driving the ball flat and putting heavy topspin on it. His backhand, though aesthetically pleasing, is less dangerous, but the 19-year-old is continuing to improve that shot. He is also a fine server, aided by his left-handedness. But he will need to be at his best when stepping to the line against Nishikori, who is amongst the best returners in the sport.
Though Shapovalov battled past Medvedev impressively, he was not entirely convincing and seems to have been struggling to find his best tennis for a while now. Shapovalov will almost certainly shake this period of poor form off sooner rather than later, but Nishikori is amongst the least forgiving opponents on Tour. The Japanese’s baseline quality should be enough to see off the flair of Shapovalov and expect him to reach the quarterfinals in three.