Nishikori played some of his best tennis in the first week of Wimbledon and has deservedly won through to the round of 16. He will go into his match against qualifier Ernests Gulbis as the favourite, but Gulbis has already demonstrated a penchant for pulling off upsets at this year's Championships. The Latvian is also a former Grand Slam semifinalist and was once ranked as high as 10th in the world. There can be no doubt that he will be a tough opponent, but who will come out on top?
This will be just the third time that these two have faced off against one another, with Nishikori having won both of the previous match ups. The first came over a decade ago in 2008 when they met in the quarterfinals of the Bermuda Challenger. Nishikori won that won 6-2 2-6 6-2. Their next match came six years later in Barcelona, and again it was Nishikori getting the job done with a 6-2 6-4 victory. Both matches were played on clay.
Path to the fourth round
Nishikori started off with what looked a straightforward match against world #198 Christian Harrison, but he was made to work for a 6-2 4-6 7-6 6-2 win. He then played the enigmatic Bernard Tomic and was again pushed, eventually getting over the line a 2-6 6-3 7-6 7-5 winner after almost three hours. His third round match saw him face another talented, but volatile Australian, Nick Kyrgios. But Nishikori won the first set in just 16 minutes, and won in straight sets 6-1 7-6 6-4.
Gulbis has had an incredible tournament, with all three of his matches so far going to five sets after he qualified into the main draw. He first beat Briton Jay Clarke 4-6 6-3 7-6 3-6 6-4. He then faced 27th seed Damir Dzumhur, and again won after dropping the first set, 2-6 6-4 6-3 1-6 6-3. He then faced world #3 Alexander Zverev in the third round. After going down two sets to one, Gulbis again fought back to win 7-6 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-0.
How do they match up?
Both players have strong baseline games, with Gulbis in particular liking to get on the offensive. Each of them prefers their backhand side, with Nishikori boasting one of the best in the sport, so expect plenty of backhand-to-backhand exchanges. Nishikori is one of the best returners of serve in the game, and if Gulbis is to compete, he will need to make a high percentage of his first serves.
Whilst the Latvian does have a powerful first serve, his second is unreliable, so if he is forced to serve twice too often then Nishikori will likely take advantage. Also in the Japanese's favour is his forehand, which is far superior to the Latvian's. Whilst Nishikori's technique is virtually flawless and his forehand a real weapon, Gulbis' is unorthodox to the say least. Though it is more reliable than it once was, it will receive the sternest of examinations at the hands of Nishikori.
Gulbis has looked to be on the edge of defeat in each of his three main draw matches so far, but has somehow come back to win them all. Thus it seems almost unwise not to back him, but the miles he has covered must be starting to catch up to him. Nishikori is also playing great tennis and is the more complete player, so expect him to continue his run into the quarterfinals. Nishikori will finish this one in four sets, ending Gulbis’ run of incredible victories.