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.