Roger Federer goes in search of his fifth straight win over Kei Nishikori when the pair square off in the Shanghai Rolex Masters quarter-finals on Friday night.
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World No. 2 Roger Federer continues his Shanghai Rolex Masters title defence on Friday night against former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori – can the Swiss legend continue his recent dominance in the match-up, or can the Japanese star claim a first win over Federer since 2014 and reach his second semi-final in Shanghai?
Playing his first competitive tournament since a shock fourth round defeat to John Millman at the U.S. Open last month (he did play the Laver Cup exhibition in Chicago a couple of weeks ago), Federer has been tested significantly in his opening two matches in Shanghai, prevailing in three sets against Daniil Medvedev and Roberto Bautista Agut. Tokyo champion Medvedev came into Shanghai with immense confidence and was very close to securing the biggest scalp of his career only to falter at the finish line, and it was a similar story against Bautista Agut on Thursday, with the Spaniard producing some excellent tennis in the second set before crumbling in the latter stages of the decider as Federer emerged triumphant by a 6-3 2-6 6-4 scoreline.
“I’m actually quite happy,” said Federer. “I thought that Bautista really had to raise his level of play in that second set to stay with me. I mean, he really caught fire, I thought. I served, I think, 80 per cent in that second set and got broken twice… At the end he got tight. I’m happy that, because of my match yesterday, I was able to stay maybe calmer, even this time around, and come up with a really good game to break at 4-4 and then serve it out was great. I was very happy.”
Federer is gunning for his first Masters 1000 crown since capturing the Shanghai title 12 months ago this week after falling in the Indian Wells final to Juan Martin del Potro (blowing multiple championship points in the process), going down in a huge upset to Thanasi Kokkinakis in his opening match in Miami and suffering a straight sets defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Cincinnati final just prior to the U.S. Open.
After a tremendous start to the season in which he beat Marin Cilic to successfully defend his Australian Open title and claim his 20th major – along with becoming the oldest No. 1 in the 45-year history of the ATP rankings in Rotterdam – success stories have been few and far between for Federer in 2018, with his only other title coming at the ATP 250 Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, with the 37-year-old losing the Halle final to Borna Coric and also going down to Kevin Anderson in the Wimbledon quarter-finals and the aforementioned Millman defeat in the fourth round of the U.S. Open.
Nevertheless, Federer remains in a four-way hunt for the year-end No. 1 ranking with Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro – although in his immediate future, Federer is trying to hold onto his No. 2 ranking, and he can only do so by defending his title and hoping Djokovic doesn’t make the semi-finals. Can Federer move one step closer to a successfully title defence by making the semi-finals on Friday night?
Kei Nishikori (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Not if Kei Nishikori has any say in the matter. Up to a projected ranking of No. 11 after falling to as low as No. 39 this season, Nishikori has put together a very solid resurgence as he targets a top 10 return to close out his 2018 campaign. Shutting down his 2017 season in August due to a wrist injury, Nishikori returned to action via the humble surroundings of the Challenger circuit at the start of the year and promptly won the Dallas Challenger before making his way back onto the ATP World Tour.
Live Stream: ATP Shanghai Rolex Masters tennis live
It was a bit of a slow grind to start with, but Nishikori hit his straps for the European clay and grass seasons, reaching the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters final with top five wins over Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev before going down to Rafael Nadal, while he was also a quarter-finalist in Rome and made the fourth round of the French Open, losing in four sets to Dominic Thiem. Nishikori would go on to make his first Wimbledon quarter-final (falling in four sets to eventual champion Novak Djokovic) before advancing to his first Grand Slam semi-final since 2016 at the U.S. Open, avenging his 2014 final loss to Marin Cilic – but Djokovic proved too strong again in the final four.
Still without an ATP World Tour title since February 2016, Nishikori has already had two excellent chances to snap that drought since departing New York, but he couldn’t take advantage in Metz and at his native Japan Open in Tokyo, losing in the semi-finals to Matthias Bachinger and the final to Daniil Medvedev respectively. However, Nishikori has shrugged off that disappointment to make the Shanghai quarter-finals this week, beating wildcard Yibing Wu in three sets before conquering Sam Querrey 7-6(7) 6-4 on Thursday in the Round of 16.
Nishikori hasn’t beaten Federer since doing so in Miami back in 2014 – but this might represent his best chance since to take out the Swiss. Federer hasn’t been entirely convincing for most of the season if we’re being honest, and he’s already been stretched to three sets in both of his first two matches in Shanghai. Bautista Agut showed that a steady flow of consistent baseline tennis could trouble Federer at the moment, and that’s certainly what Nishikori brings to the table, but in more dynamic fashion. It’s hard not to make Federer the favourite, but another three-set contest looks to be on the cards for the defending champion in Shanghai.