Recent Queen’s Club champion Marin Cilic may be starting his Wimbledon campaign on Court Two but he will have legitimate hopes of ending this fortnight with the trophy in his hands on Centre Court. The first obstacle to that aspiration is Japan’s diminutive Yoshihito Nishioka who is playing at the All England Club for the second time in his career. Will he be able to cut Cilic down to size or will the powerful Croatian have too much in his locker?
Cilic and Nishioka have never met competitively before, but there is a significant gulf in experience between the two. Cilic is a Grand Slam champion having won the US Open in 2014, and has reached two further Major finals in the past year, including at Wimbledon. Nishioka, in contrast, has never gone beyond the first round at the Championships, and has just three Grand Slam match wins to his name, although he did miss much of the 2017 season after injuring his knee and undergoing surgery.
Last time out
Cilic began his grass court season at Queen’s Club fresh from reaching the French Open quarterfinals for the second time in his career. There he made a run to the title for the second time, after also winning the title in 2012. His performances all week were impressive, but none more so than his 5-7 7-6 6-3 victory from match point down against a resurgent Novak Djokovic, a win which will surely give him great confidence ahead of this year’s Wimbledon.
Nishioka exited the French Open in the first round in five sets despite holding a match point against Fernando Verdasco. Perhaps mentally fatigued after such a difficult loss, he didn’t begin his grass court season until last week when he attempted to qualify into the Antalya Open in Turkey. Unfortunately for the Japanese, his bid to reach the main draw was ended in the first round by Spain’s Roberto Ortega-Olmedo who won 6-2 4-6 6-2.
How do they match up?
Cilic will look to control this match from the outset with his power off the ground and when stepping to the line. His serve is one of the most effective in the game, with the influence of former coach Goran Ivanisevic clear in the improvements Cilic has made to that short over the past few years. His forehand, though not one of the most powerfully struck is a dangerous weapon, particularly on faster courts, because of the lack of spin that he imparts to the ball.
Nishioka is not one of the most powerful players on Tour, and his serve is slightly lacking, which Cilic would do well to exploit. But he is equipped with reliable groundstrokes and should be comfortable trading with Cilic from the back of the court. He will likely look to do most of the damage to his opponent with his forehand, which is a very useful shot. However, whether he has enough outright power to undo Cilic is unclear.
Nishioka is a far better player than his ranking of 259th in the world suggests. Indeed, after Nishikori he is surely Japan’s best player. However, he is still not back to his best after his ACL tear and he doesn’t have many match wins so far in his comeback. So against Cilic, who he would find it hard to beat at the best of times, it is hard to see him having enough to pull off the upset. Expect Cilic to pick up the win in straight sets.