Fine Swine: Australian Open R4 Preview – Nishikori vs Tsonga

Nishikori seeks back-to-back Australian Open quarterfinals
Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Seventh seed Kei Nishikori will battle 9th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for the 7th time in their careers. Tsonga looks to make it two straight after he beat Nishikori in five sets at last year’s French Open.

(7) Kei Nishikori vs (9) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Nishikori had some struggles in his third round match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. The 7th seed trailed in the opening set to the Spaniard at 5-4, but secured the timely break of serve and ran out the opening set 7-5. Immediately, he called for the trainer and reported some soreness in his right wrist. After treatment, Nishikori did not look comfortable to start the second set and that allowed Garcia-Lopez to break to open the set. Nishikori had trouble finding any sort of rhythm as the Spaniard rushed to a 6-2 set win to even the match. The 7th seed from Japan would recover in the third and fourth sets as his wrist seemed better. He ended played some of his best tennis to close out the 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win.

Nishikori said after the match that he doesn’t expect the injury to hinder him against Tsonga, saying “It was little bit sore in the beginning, but after the treatment it was fine. I’m sure it’s going to be OK.”

Tsonga was up against fellow Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the third round. The 9th seed was tested, but came up big in tiebreaks to take down Herbert 6-4, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (4). Tsonga blasted 23 aces in the match, but was broken twice. For the most part, Tsonga was hitting cleanly as he tallied 46 winners and only 19 unforced errors. Herbert’s undoing was a high amount of unforced errors (46). Tsonga has dropped just one set through three rounds and is now 3-0 in tiebreaks so far in 2016.

Their last meeting was in the semifinals of the 2015 French Open. Behind a boisterous home crowd, Tsonga darted out to a two set lead, before ultimately having to win in a fifth set 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3. They also met at the Australian Open in this same round back in 2012. Nishikori grinded out a five set win 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. The 7th seed is 4-1 in their non-slam meetings. Six of seven meetings have come on either indoor or outdoor hard courts with Nishikori winning five of those clashes.

As for what will happen on the court, you can expect Tsonga to use his power to try and push Nishikori into advantageous spots. The problem is that Nishikori posses the athleticism to track down balls and is a shot maker. That means more running for Tsonga who has four extra years of wear and tear on his body at the age of 30. With Nishikori, the fragility of his body was back on display last round. The right wrist has been a bit of a nagging problem for him for years, but the extra tape seemed to help after he finally figured out what he could and could not do with the wrist after dropping the second set.

The 7th seed does not possess the natural power of Tsonga, so his serve will come under more pressure. Nishikori was broken three times against Garcia-Lopez on eleven chances. When his wrist was not a question in rounds one and two, he was broken just once on four chances. Tsonga saved four of six break opportunities against Herbert and five of seven in the first two rounds. Whichever player is able to do better on the break point conversions and saves is normally going to be in position to win. At their French Open meetings, Nishikori allowed an astounding 19 break chances. He saved 13, but that pressure eventually wore him down. Tsonga was broken four times, but on just seven chances.

This figures to be another roller coaster of momentum swings just as their previous two slam meetings have been. While some may have seen the Nishikori wrist issue as a curse, it could turn into a blessing. It gave the 7th seed a chance to problem solve after cruising through two rounds. Problem solving is key to finding a way to beat your opponent when things are not exactly going your way. This should be another classic. The Pig says to give Nishikori the slight advantage with better overall consistency and shot making at this stage. Tsonga is definitely capable of winning this one though if he keeps his errors down and doesn’t have questionable shot selection or if the wrist becomes problematic again for the 7th seed from Japan.

Nishikori wins in five sets


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