In a clash between one of the sport’s biggest names and an almost unknown, onetime US Open finalist and world #4 Kei Nishikori takes on French wildcard Maxime Janvier. Nishikori has had plenty of clay court success throughout his career, reaching two Masters 1000 finals on the surface and the French Open quarterfinals twice. Janvier will be making his debut at a Slam when he walks out on court to face Nishikori. Will he be able to spring the upset, or will Nishikori’s experience prevail?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering Nishikori rarely ventures away from the biggest events on Tour, he and Janvier have never met competitively. In fact, the Frenchman has never before played a Tour-level match, although he did defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a Challenger in Morocco two years ago. Nishikori, in contrast, has 343 career match wins to his name and eleven titles. At the Slams alone he has 69 match wins. Rarely, in fact, has a match seen such a disparity in comparative levels of experience.
Last time out
Nishikori brings some good form into the French Open after a promising clay court season did much to dispel the disappointing run of results that had been haunting the Japanese since 2017. He excelled in reaching the final at the Monte Carlo Masters, although Nadal overwhelmed him in the title-match. He then lost to Djokovic in back-to-back tournaments, but his performances, particularly in Rome, will have given him much encouragement coming into the second Slam of the year.
Janvier found himself playing in rather less desirable conditions than the Foro Italico in the Italian capital that was graced by Nishikori and the game’s other leading lights. The 21-year-old instead plied his trade at three Challenger events at the start of May, losing in the first round in Seoul and failing to qualify for another in Aix-en-Provence. He reached the main draw in Bordeaux, but lost in the first round to his countryman Calvin Hemery. He then lost in the first round of qualifying in Lyon to Joris De Loore of Belgium.
How do they match up?
Nishikori proved himself one of the first-rate baseliners at the peak of his powers. Able to hurt opponents with both his forehand and backhand, the Japanese also covered the court impressively. Probably only the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray can claim to defend better than Nishikori, who is particularly effective at turning defence into attack, even when he is forced to stretch. When on the front foot, Nishikori generally looks to his forehand to control the point.
One area of his game that Janvier may look to exploit is his second serve. The Frenchman likes to take big cuts at the ball when he is returning, and returning aggressively is a strategy that can pay dividends against Nishikori. Djokovic was able to take advantage of his fairly weak second serves when they met in both Madrid and Rome. However, Janvier lacks the measured aggression that the great Serbian can call upon, and he may find himself hitting too many unforced errors against a player with Nishikori’s defensive quality.
This is a massive step up in class compared with the opponents Janvier is used to facing. That he is yet to play a Tour-level match is telling, and whilst he may have defeated Tsitsipas two years ago, his game does not appear to have progressed anything like how the Greek’s has, which may explain why he is yet to break into the top 200. In short, he has done little in his career to suggest he can defeat an opponent of Nishikori’s standing. The Japanese to advance in straight sets.