It’s the glamour match-up of the Rio Olympic quarterfinals on Friday as Kei Nishikori and Gael Monfils vie for a spot in the medal rounds. Monfils will be seeking his first win against Nishikori after tasting defeat in three sets in their two previous encounters.
(4) Kei Nishikori vs (6) Gael Monfils
Nishikori has found himself in a soft part of the draw to this point. His first three matches all ended in straight sets with only Australia’s John Millman really pushing him in round two. On Thursday, Nishikori rolled over Slovakia’s Andrej Martin 6-2, 6-2. The 4th seed ate up Martin’s serve, winning 28 of 54 points played. Nishikori would break him five times on ten chances. The man from Japan was average, but good enough on serve in this one. he would win 33 of 50 points, broken once on two chances. Nishikori continued to have a problem with unforced errors on Thursday, spraying 28 to go against 17 winners. He had 31 in the previous round against Millman with 27 winners. That erratic play could come back to haunt him at some point.
Monfils came through his toughest match in round three, taking down Marin Cilic 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4. La Monf was better on serve as the Croatian could not crack him on just two chances. Monfils would win 76 percent of his first serve points, better than Cilic’s 64 percent. He would grab a single break in each of the last two sets to secure the win. Monfils did have 33 unforced errors against 22 winners. Cilc was worse with 53 unforced errors. For the 6th seed, his serve has been a big weapon this week. He has been broken only once and that came in his opener against Vasek Pospisil. Overall, he has saved eight of nine break chances and that will be huge to his chances to medal.
This will be the pair’s second meeting of 2016 and third overall. Earlier this year in Miami, Nishikori outlasted Monfils 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (3). Monfils biggest flaw in that match was a leaky second serve that allowed Nishikori to win 26 of the 40 points played off of it. Both players were broken three times with Nishikori forced to make more saves, six, than Monfils, four. When Monfils landed his first serve (56 percent), it was lethal as he won 80 percent of the points. Nishikori won just 66 percent of his first serve points, but took 56 percent of his second serve points. That was vastly superior to Monfils’ numbers. Their other meeting was in 2014 in Halle on grass where Nishikori emerged the victor 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
If you’re looking for non-baseline warfare, this is not going to be your quarterfinal to watch. That is where both men are comfortable and prefer to reside. It should lend itself to some tiring and outstanding rallies. Hot shots galore could be in store for this one. I would give Nishikori the overall edge off the ground. His forehand and backhand are equally good and capable of producing winners from varying angles. Monfils’ forehand is a harsh weapon and his backhand might not be quite as crisp on a consistent basis, but it’s still effective.
Court positioning will be a fascinating watch in this one as the baseline exchanges figure to showcase both men and their ability to push the other around the court. Whomever does a better job of creating better angles for themselves likely will have one foot into the semifinals. The other foot though may be mostly Monfils. Serve. It is still one spot where Nishikori struggles to find consistency. Monfils figures to see more break chances off of Nishikori’s serve, it is a question of how well he can convert. The Frenchman has actually done a better job this season of converting break chances versus Nishikori. Monfils is converting around 45 percent of his chances with Nishikori still solid at 41 percent. Monfils has been better than his average this week, cashing in on ten breaks of serve on 18 chances. Nishikori has hit on 11 of 17.
Despite Nishikori seeing victory in the previous meetings, I think Monfils is in a better vein of form right now as he heads into this one. He is playing with confidence and I think his serve could be the key to him moving on to the semifinals. Nishikori will make this a good grinder, but his serve deficiiencies may bite him here.
Monfils wins in three sets