Kei Nishikori is a former finalist at the US Open, and after an impressive first week at the event this year, he’ll be harbouring hopes of improving on that effort. The 21st seed he will face the experienced German Philipp Kohlschreiber in the fourth round. Kohlschreiber, currently the world #34, has played at 15 US Open’s prior to this one, and has never managed to make it past this stage of the tournament. Will this be the year he does it?
Perhaps surprisingly, considering how long both have spent near the top of the game, Nishikori and Kohlschreiber didn’t play one another until 2016, when they met in the first round at the Australian Open. Nishikori won that match relatively easily, advancing in straight sets, 6-4 6-3 6-3. Their second and most recent meeting came earlier this year on the clay courts at the Italian Open. Again, it was Nishikori getting it done easily, this time winning 6-1 6-2.
Path to the fourth round
Nishikori has not yet been troubled meaningfully by an opponent at this year's US Open. He opened his campaign with a 6-2 6-2 6-3 win over German Maximilian Marterer. In the second round he was leading Gael Monfils 6-2 5-4 when the Frenchman was forced to retire with a wrist injury. He then faced 13th seed Diego Schwartzman, and despite dropping a set, the end result never looked in serious doubt as he won 6-4 6-4 5-7 6-1.
Kohlschreiber has won all three of his matches in four sets, having started rather slowly in every outing thus far. His tournament began with a 7-6 5-7 6-4 6-4 win over his countryman Yannick Hanfmann, before he beat Australia's Matthew Ebden 6-7 6-3 6-2 6-0. In the third round he took on German #1 and fourth seed Alexander Zverev, who had impressed in the opening two rounds. But, despite again dropping the first set, Kohlschreiber fought back to pull off the upset 6-7 6-4 6-1 6-3.
How do they match up?
Both of these players are renowned for their solid all-round games. Nishikori, in particular, has one of the most complete games on the Tour. He is strong on both wings and, though at his best when counter-punching, he has the quality and confidence to step in a dictate when on top. But, usually an extremely tidy player, Nishikori will be disappointed by the 63 unforced errors he hit against Schwartzman, though he did also find 49 winners.
Kohlschreiber shares many of Nishikori's strengths, and like the Japanese has fine groundstrokes, though his one-handed backhand compares unfavourably with Nishikori's two-hander in both reliability and offensive output. As a result, it would not be a surprise to see Nishikori target that wing in cross-court exchanges. And whilst both men have fairly weak serves in comparison with most of the Tour, Nishikori is by some distance the better returner of the two.
This match could well prove to be a gruelling affair, with the quality and consistency both men can summon from the baseline likely to ensure a fair number of long baseline rallies. Nishikori will understandably head in as the heavy favourite, but after his victory over Alexander Zverev, Kohlschreiber cannot be discounted. Nonetheless, expect Nishikori's star quality to prevail, but it will take him four long, arduous sets to do so.