After last week’s full on Fed Cup Edition, it’s an all-#men episode of Tactics Tuesday, with a glance at the first matches of the ATP World Tour Finals in London and an in-depth look at Federer-Nishikori.
The ATP Tour Finals has become a staple of the tennis calendar over the last few years. Although competition might be stiff when it comes to hosting the event after 2015, many seem to believe London stands a good chance at renewing its deal. After all, the dimly-lit ranks of the O2 arena combined with the illuminated courts provide a marked difference to the majority of the big ATP events and unique atmosphere and stage setting for the protagonists in men’s tennis. Sold-out sessions at traditionally high-end London ticket prices ($$, ATP, $$) are further testament to how well the event has been received over the years. But as spectacular as the backdrop is, the first few matches contested have barely lived up to expectation.
On Day 1, Nishikori and Murray opened proceedings; while the US Open finalist played well in patches of his 6-4 6-4 victory, he was a long shot away from the blistering form that saw him reach his first major final two months ago. Still, it was enough to dispatch Murray, whose performance was flat and error-strewn, which conspired to never really allow him to get a grip on the match. In the second match of the day, crowd-favorite Roger Federer defeated Milos Raonic in straight sets. The Canadian struggled a great deal to find his range from the baseline to start. While the encounter was far more competitive in the second set, the match ended abruptly as Swiss dropped a tie-break bagel on his opponent to wrap the match 6-1 7-6(0).
Day 2 or “Breadstick Monday,” saw even more one-sided matches as Novak Djokovic rolled over Marin Cilic, and Stan Wawrinka brushed aside Tomas Berdych in identical 6-1 6-1 scorelines.
Earlier today Federer and Nishikori faced off in their fifth career meeting. The Worlds No. 2 and 5 split their first 4 matches, with Federer winning on grass in Halle and Nishikori winning on the slower Miami hard courts. The latter in particular was a great contest, so expectations for the WTFs first high-competitive match were ripe.
Group B: Roger Federer def. Kei Nishikori 6-3 6-2
Early in the first set, both men held serve but Nishikori made the first push, forcing the Swiss into several deuce games with aggressive returns and baseline play. When it mattered most, Federer extinguished break points with first serves and held on for a 2-1 lead. Afterwards, the top seed of Group B went after Nishikori’s second serve and, a few thunderous forehands later, Federer drew first blood. The remainder of the set continued on serve, though Nishikori was dangerously close to being an even bigger deficit more than a few times.
The No. 5 seed simply didn’t produce the tidy and accurate tennis for which he is known in set one. Seventeen unforced errors is uncharacteristic by his ever-escalating standard; that the majority came from the backhand was even more surprising. Most tended to come at moments where Nishikori tried to finish the point too quickly.
Mid-way through and at the end of the opening set, Nishikori got his right wrist examined by the trainer; it leaves the question how much of his performance was down to the physical issues present in his first match. Finishing the point quicker is certainly a sensible approach in that situation, but it’s not suited to everyone in the same manner. It might work for players who are naturally inclined to hit and serve big, but Nishikori rarely hits the cover off of the ball out of nowhere. The world No. 5 likes to wind up a point and put himself into a good position to finish efficiently. Going big a shot or two into a rally is inherently counter-intuitive to his usual play.
The second set picked up precisely where set one had left off. Whenever Nishikori seemed ready to make a push, the group’s top seed was able to rely on his serve to get him of trouble. In addition to his solid display throughout the match, the 17-time Grand Slam champion was quick to assess Nishikori’s predicament. Federer excelled at selective aggression, but he was also happy to trade groundstrokes when necessary. He likely understood that the his opponent kept going for a little to0 much, particularly off of his usually stronger backhand wing. He found just the right mixture of applying pressure and luring his opponent into overhitting time and time again.
After 68 minutes, the first match on the third day of the World Tour Finals was wrapped up with another Federer service winner. The “Swiss Maestro” made a big leap towards not only reaching the semifinalsm but also to finishing No. 1 in his group. For Nishikori, a lot will depend on whether his wrist holds up until his next match but he still has every chance of surviving the group stages.
The wait for a gripping and entertaining match in London, however, continues.