Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Nishikori fires a warning

Spain's Nicolas Almagro should have all the hallmarks of a clay courter, and indeed is at home on that surface, yet he is different from the scores of top level players produced from the long successful mould - for one he has a single handed back hand, and he has a more than useful big first serve, two attributes which would need to be in top shape should he be a realistic challenger to Kei Nishikori in the first round match first up on Margaret Court Arena on Day Two.

Nishikori, whose stellar 2014 saw him reach the US Open Final and finish top five in the world, possesses a Djokovic-like game in some respects, but relies on a difficult to handle serve to win many of his points, and in the early stages of the match, it was a servers party, with both men enjoying several free points with their potent deliveries.  

Other than that, the rallies were predominantly baseline, and the ball was battered mercilessly in the empire raining exchanges, mostly terminated with winners or forced errors.  Although Nishikori reads the ball well he still could play from slightly closer in to the baseline to be able to give servers less time to react to the return - this is one of the reasons Djokovic is the best.

Nine games went by and nothing indicated what was about to unfold in the tenth.  The hitherto solid groundstrokes of Almagro began to go astray, only partly due to the pressure from Nishikori's racquet.  Set points were saved but not enough and Kei Nishikori had won the vital opener from out of the blue 6-4.

The standard of tennis continued its downward spiral temporarily in the opening game of set two as Nishikori caught the inconsistency bug and was looking down the barrel of a break of serve.  He gathered himself and led 1-0, serving and forehand to the fore.  Games were on serve for awhile, the tennis at times reaching the levels of the early stages of the match.

At 2-2 Nishikori again had the wobbles, these ones from which he could not recover, and Almagro raced in to pick up the scraps and lead 3-2.  Nicolas then began missing his first serve and his ground shots developed a sameness and predictability whilst Nishikori regained his variety of shot making, making it difficult for the Spanish player to make any impact.  Accordingly the break back occurred and soon after the 4-3 advantage to Japan.

The key eighth game took what seemed an eternity to conclude, with both having several chances to prevail.  Finally Nishikori claimed another break, a 5-3 lead and the right to serve for the set.
The ninth game included another revival from Almagro, denying for now Nishikori's claims to the second set and precipitating a manic run of exhilarating tennis.  Almagro rushed the net and covered the rest of the court playing shots possibly yet seen on this planet to even up the set at 5-5 and have Nishikori in bother at 0-30.  

This sparked Kei into action and the two managed to do sufficiently to necessitate a tie break.  Bar one forced error, the fifth seed played a faultless breaker and now had a firm grip on the match 6-4 7-6 (1).

Almagro had little more to give - well nothing that could endanger Nishikori who straight away broke the Spaniard in the opening game of the what would prove to be final set.  Another break of serve and before long it was 5-1 and Almagro praying for a miracle.

Nishikori played high standard tennis throughout, only dropping his guard for a couple of brief periods. Almagro provided a useful first round hit out but after a great start found his limitations too easily exploitable by an elite player.  Nishikori 6-4 7-6 (1) 6-2

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