In a potential thriller, three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka takes on former world #4 and 2014 US Open runner-up Kei Nishikori in the second round in Cincinnati. Wawrinka suffered a serious knee injury last year which ruled him out for six months and has found the comeback trail a lengthy one. But of late the signs have been good for the Swiss. Nishikori has had no shortage of injury trouble himself, but has also been playing good tennis recently. Who will come out on top?
Wawrinka and Nishikori have met eight times in a head-to-head that is tied at four wins apiece. The Swiss won their first two matches, which included a 6-3 6-3 win in Cincinnati in 2012. But Nishikori won their third which came in the US Open quarterfinals in five in 2014. Wawrinka avenged that defeat in the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2015 in straight sets and also beat him in the US Open semifinals in 2016 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-2. But Nishikori has won their last two matches.
Path to the second round
After battling through to the third round in Toronto where he fell despite a valiant effort against Rafael Nadal, Wawrinka arrived in Cincinnati with some momentum. He needed it thanks to a difficult draw which pitted him against 12th seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina. But Wawrinka was able to carry his good form across the Canadian border to Ohio where he delivered one of his best performances of the year to win through 6-2 4-6 6-3.
After reaching the quarterfinals at Wimbledon for the first time in his career (lost to Djokovic), Nishikori doubtless had high hopes for this summer’s hard court swing. So far it has not quite gone to plan. He lost in the quarterfinals in Washington to eventual champion Alexander Zverev before crashing out in the first round in Toronto at the hands of Robin Haase. But he delivered a good performance to defeat Andrey Rublev 7-5 6-3 in the first round in Cincinnati.
How do they match up?
This match should provide a good contest between the primarily offensive Wawrinka and the defensive Nishikori. There are few blessed with more power to throw behind their shots than Stan Wawrinka, with his backhand surely the most powerful single-hander in the game. Wawrinka’s forehand was firing in Toronto, and whilst it is less reliable than his backhand, it is a weapon all the same. His serve is similarly dangerous and Nishikori will need to return well to stay with the Swiss.
Fortunately the Japanese is an excellent returner. Indeed he is bettered only by Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in that department. His ability to defend in the corners is also reminiscent of the Serbian and Scot with his open stance defence on the backhand particularly impressive. When Nishikori goes on the attack he will likely look to use his forehand to dictate whilst his backhand down the line opens up court space for him to great effect.
This is a difficult match to predict. The head-to-head between the two is even and both are still working their way back from injury and are struggling to deliver consistent performances week in week out as a result. But the fast hard courts in Cincinnati should favour Wawrinka’s more aggressive style and that could well be all the edge needed in such a tight encounter. Expect the Swiss to scrape through to the third round in three.