Karen Khachanov and Kei Nishikori will face off on clay for the second time in a month, this time with exponentially greater stakes. In Madrid, Nishikori dropped the first set in a tiebreak, then reeled off the final two sets, 6-2, 6-2. It hasn’t been the best clay-court season for the Russian, but after throttling Jiri Vesely in the first round, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, the heavy hitter might be rounding into form at the right time.

Finally healthy, Nishikori has been steadily increasing his level all season long. The world No. 49 enjoyed a fine clay-court season, earning wins over Cristian Garin, Fabio Fognini and Khachanov, losing only to Rafael Nadal in Barcelona and Alexander Zverev in both Madrid and Rome. Nishikori survived a valiant effort from Italian qualifier Alessandro Gianessi, winning yet another five-set match to improve his record to an outstanding 25-7 in deciding fifth sets.

Photo: Cedric Lecocq & Nicolas Gouhier

Photo: Cedric Lecocq & Nicolas Gouhier


According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Russian is listed as a slight -127 favorite and projected to win by 1.5 games. All indications point to a close encounter, but with Khachanov looking dominant and Nishikori looking susceptible in round one, there is a decent chance the market overreacted to their respective scorelines.

Scores can be misleading, as Vesely played a pretty awful match, winning just 24 percent of points on his second serve and 28 percent of return points. With two full days off, a fresh Nishikori should cause plenty of problems for the Russian.

After bursting on the scene and alarming opponents with his overwhelming power, the 6’6” Khachanov has recently evolved into somewhat of a grinder. He’ll need to be the aggressor on Wednesday, as Nishikori is too solid to defeat with consistency alone.

If Khachanov consistently gives Nishikori time to set up his shots from the middle of the court, it will be a long day at the office. 

Expect plenty of service breaks in this match, as Nishikori is one of the game’s best returners, but lacks a bit of firepower on his own serve. There’s always a chance Khachanov has finally found his form, but after a middling clay season, Nishikori ought to get the job done in four or five sets.

The Pick: Kei Nishikori