WTF Wednesdays: Fantasy Matchup #2 (Cilic v. Nishikori)
There are just three tournaments left for players to accumulate ranking points that can be applied towards their race ranking. Two of these tournaments are taking place this week (Basel, Valencia) and the last is set to occur in Paris-Bercy next week. The winners of Valencia and Basel will receive 500 points and the winner in Paris will receive double that as befits a Masters 1000 champion.
As of Wednesday, five players have officially qualified for the World Tour Finals set to be held 9-16 November at the O2 Arena in London. In addition to, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, newest grand slam champion Marin Cilic recently clinched his spot thanks to a rule that allows that season’s major winners to play, so long as they’re ranked in the Top 20.
If the tennis season were to end today, Kei Nishikori, Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray would complete the lineup. On the bubble remain Nos. 9-11: David Ferrer, Milos Raonic, and Grigor Dimitrov.
While Nishikori was inactive this week, Berdych suffered an opening round loss to Pablo Andujar in Valencia. Andy Murray, who defeated Ferrer to win Vienna last week – passing Raonic in the standings along the way – is in pursuit of the Valencia crown as well. David Ferrer is still alive in Valencia, while Raonic and Dimitrov are still alive in Basel.
We could see some shifts in the race rankings at the end of this week, but a lot will be in play for the Paris Masters.
Fantasy Matchup Preview: Marin Cilic v. Kei Nishikori
Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori have a pretty extensive history. These two first met back in 2008, when Nishikori was just 18-years-old and Cilic one year older. Cilic won this initial meeting back in Indian Wells, but the Japanese No. 1 ended up winning five of their seven most recent meetings, including their first match at a Grand Slam tournament in 2010 (video).
Of course, Cilic has won the most critical encounter, which took place a month ago, again at the US Open. Each playing their first Grand Slam final, the Croat handled the pressure better than Nishikori on the day, overwhelming him with a deadly combination of consistency and power from the baseline and off the serve.
Nishikori and Cilic have had successful post-Open campaigns, but not without a few disappointing results mixed in. Nishikori won his first two tournaments following the U.S. Open in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo, where he beat Julien Benneteau and Milos Raonic, respectively. He was unable to continue this rich vein of form at the Shanghai Masters, and was taken out by Jack Sock in the second round.
Less than a week after his victory in Flushing, Cilic headed to the Netherlands where he won two of the final three rubbers for his country’s Davis Cup team – including a fifth rubber victory over Thiemo De Bakker. He then made his way to Beijing where he reached the quarterfinals, before losing to Andy Murray in straight sets. Compatriot Ivo Karlovic proceeded to get the better of him in the opening round of the Shanghai Masters. Cilic, who admitted to having minimal time off following the US Open, ultimately benefited from his early exit in Asia, as he went on to pick up where he left off in New York City, winning a title in Moscow in very convincing fashion.
If these two meet at the World Tour Finals, it would be easy to imagine Nishikori would be spurred on after his major disappointment. Even more in his favor, Cilic soared to untouchable levels in that match, and it would be unreasonable to expect him to be able to fully replicate that level of play.
One of Nishikori’s main problems in the US Open final was how he was unable to dictate rallies on his return games. Cilic was bombing serves left and right, leaving Nishikori – who is typically an extremely capable returner – with no way to get on top of the point. If Cilic’s serve is as effective as was in New York, he’ll do a lot of damage and it’ll even be harder for Nishikori to control the points as the World Tour Finals are played on an indoor hard court.
If Nishikori can take command of the points, Cilic will be forced to respond to Nishikori’s dynamic on-the-rise ball striking by using his defense and movement where, in a perfect world, he would prefer to rely solely on his serve and offensive firepower.
We’ve yet to see Cilic replicate his US Open form and unless he is able to do that, look for Nishikori to obtain revenge at the 02 Arena in November if these two do end up playing.
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