While it is never easy for a tennis player to lose a marathon match in the second week of a Grand Slam, there is absolutely no question that Milos Raonic has to be kicking himself after dropping a five-setter to Kei Nishikori 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-6 (6), 5-7, 4-6 during Round of Sixteen action at the 2014 US Open.
After jumping out to a two sets to one lead, it looked as though it would be more a matter of if and not when the hard serving Canadian would close out his fellow rival and punch his ticket into a quarterfinal date with No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka. Unfortunately the combination of a game and hungry Nishikori with the unwillingness of Raonic to change his approach, led directly to the No. 5 seed being sent home earlier than he was anticipating.
Nishikori managed to hold his own against his opponent’s overpowering serve, breaking him on five separate occasions and pushing him deep into games for much of the match, and Raonic did nothing to change things up. While his refusal to run around balls to use his overpowering forehand was puzzling from a return standpoint, the placement of his serve following what were some obvious adjustments from the man standing over on the other side of the net were even more perplexing.
Instead of being the aggressor and pushing the play, Milos looked hesitant for most of the match and seemed perfectly content with simply sitting back and waiting for Nishikori to self-destruct and essentially hand him over the victory. There was absolutely no urgency to his approach and it ultimately ended up costing him the match, despite being in the driver’s seat heading into set number four.
The longer the rallies and match went, the more uncomfortable the big man started to look. While his on court movement has unquestionably improved over the last number of months, it is still light years away from where it needs to be against guys who can return a serve and make their way around the court. Nishikori can do all of that and when healthy, he knows all too well that he possess the necessary tools to give the Canadian a tough time.
Having said all of that, both men were on serve until Raonic was inexplicably broken at 5-5 in the fourth set and from that point on, the match was no longer in his control. His seventy-two unforced errors did not help matters but with the style of game he plays, those sorts numbers should almost be expected in a match of this length.
Obviously playing a four hour plus match until 2:26 in the morning isn’t easy and it most certainly took a lot out of both guys but the door was open for either one to walk through and Nishikori was the one who raised his level of play when it mattered most.