After a fun and exciting week and-a-half by the seaside and in the warm temps of Key Biscayne, it will all come down to this match played in the scorching Florida sun.
Kei Nishikori didn;t have long to bask in the glow of his semifinal win at the Miami Open on Friday, before he found out what awaits him in the final, it probably seems like a Herculean task that lays ahead of him tomorrow. Talking to reporters and media didn’t hold any punches.
“[What is] the most difficult challenge for you with Novak’s game?” a reporter asked. “What is the thing you will have to overcome and deal with in order to have a chance against him?”
You can compare it to Nishikori trying to climb the tennis version of Mount Everest on Sunday, and the reason everyone is making such a fuss is because Djokovic kind of is that peak everyone wants to conquer. Novak has lost just one time in Miami since 2010, and has won 55 of his last 57 matches at Masters 1000 events. In comparison, Nishikori will be trying for his first title at this level. Djokovic the veteran will be going for a record 28th title, and even when he looked at the numbers he was honest about how dangerous and difficult the mountain path in front of him is.
“I think the biggest thing is that he doesn’t have much weakness,” Nishikori said of Djokovic. “He’s very patient. He doesn’t give you any free points. So [I] also have to focus almost every point if I want to beat him … And he’s been serving well, I think. So, yeah, [I] have to return well, serve and everything [has] to be there to beat him.”
So if he can do everything perfectly then he’ll have a chance.
But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean Nishikori will lay down and surrender, as he has pulled it together against the world No. 1 before. The most recent and relevant time was when he beat Djokovic in four sets in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals. So he knows it’s possible because he has done it before.
Nishikori is also coming off one of the best matches of his season. He was consistently aggressive against Nick Kyrgios in the semifinals and was able to take him down. Nishikori looked hungry and since he hasn’t been in this position many times before he won’t waste the opportunity. He knows it’s no fluke, his hard work paid off and he was due to reach another Masters final soon. And here he is, just one win away probably wishing is was against just about any opponent other than this one.
Djokovic did not repeat the mistakes he made in his loss to Nishikori at the Open, and seems to have taken it personally. Since that defeat he’s 5-0 against Kei, and he’s not just won but annhilated his opponent in the last five sets they’ve played by scores of 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. The last time they matched up was two months ago at the Australian Open. It was a similar medium-speed hard court to the one in Miami. In Australia on his way to another title, Djokovic gave Nishikori a comprehensive backcourt beating.
Many experts thought that while Nishikori could attack as well as Djokovic, and even get the better of the backhand rallies, he was unable or unwilling to defend the court to the extent that Djokovic was, and always is. It’s that unsatiable aggression that keeps Novak at the top. Can Nishikori dig deep and find that passion?
The temperature in Miami on Sunday are supposed to be cooler than they have been over the last week. But the final could still come down to some close sets and either player could get very hot under the collar, like in the semifinal between Djokovic and David Goffin. Nishikori is kind of a pumped up, superior version of Goffin, and like the Belgian he should be able to create his opportunities from the baseline and steal some games.
Nishikori having watched that match and seeing how he frustrated Djokovic, may be thinking of Goffin, and some of the mistakes he made like one that lost him the first-set tiebreaker against Djokovic. Nishikori know that he has to focus on every point to have a chance of winning.
Kei could win. He has the shots, and Djokovic hasn’t played 100% like his dominating self in Miami. But if you’re betting on this one, then don’t on Nishikori: because rven with his B game, Djokovic hasn’t lost a set and will probably mop of the court with Nishkori in time to have one of the umbrella drinks poolside.
Our Pick: Djokovic