Between the Japan Open, the Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific (a.k.a. the Australian Open), and the IMG-owned Sony Open in Miami, Kei Nishikori has a trio of tournaments to call “home.” And the Bradenton-trained, Bollettieri-coached product’s play at each event as reflected that relationship.
Two years ago, Nishikori won the title in Tokyo, and he’s reached at least fourth round of the Australian Open in each of the last three years. He’s now done the same in Key Biscayne, thanks to a hard-fought, 7-6 (7), 2-6, 7-6 (9) win over David Ferrer in three hours and seven minutes.
Ferrer, who finished second in Miami last year after failing to convert a match point against Andy Murray, failed to convert four match points today. The world No. 4 (for now; Roger Federer is expected to pass him on Monday) asked everything of Nishikori, but in the end couldn’t answer the most important questions himself.
Nishikori’s nerves were obvious throughout—he lost a 4-1 lead in the first set and hit some softballs in the final tiebreaker—but counterpunching wasn’t enough for Ferrer, who was actually the one looking worse for wear by match’s end.
Indeed, this match was a role reversal, as Nishikori outlasted the tireless Spaniard when he converted his first and only match point (on a Ferrer error). Nishikori has had some huge wins before—he was one of only six players to beat Novak Djokovic in 2011—but I got the feeling that this win signaled something bigger.
It may not occur this week in Miami; Nishikori could face Federer next. But I sense the 24-year-old is ready to make something of a leap this season. He’s already won a title, he’s now into just his third career Masters quarterfinal, and he leads a Japanese Davis Cup team that has a strong chance of advancing to the semifinals, with Tomas Berdych passing on the away tie for the Czech Republic.
Nishikori has been floating around the Top 20 for a couple of years now, but this triumph over an established veteran, coupled with another impressive victory over a highly-touted contemporary, Grigor Dimitrov, bodes well for his present and future. And, for Nick: