Both Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori will look to rebound from subpar performances on Sunday. The loser will drop to 0-2 in the Stan Smith group at the ATP World Tour Finals. The winner will improve to 1-1 and have a realistic shot to advance out of the group in the final Round Robin match.
(6) Tomas Berdych - (8) Kei Nishikori
Early on in his opening match against Roger Federer on Sunday, Tomas Berdych at least played the part of being competitive. Berdych served pretty well early and took advantage of some poor serving from Federer for an early break lead. That lead lasted all of a game as the Swiss maestro took the break right back to get on serve. Federer would eventually secure a break late in the set off of some faulty Berdych ground strokes and serve out the set. The second set quickly went south for Berdych with his serve broken to open as Federer did not look back in cruising to a 6-2 set win. For the Czech, it continued his pattern of losing his opener at the Tour Finals in each of his five previous trips.
Nishikori had the unfortunate task of trying to end Novak Djokovic's 22 match win streak in his London opener. It was evident very early that Nishikori would not be the one to threaten the Serb as Djokovic broke the 8th seed early and often. Nishikori struggled to find any consistency on his serve and when he did, Djokovic was there with his A+ return game and stellar defense to thwart any momentum. Nishikori won just 43 percent of his service points and held serve just twice in seven games. He did not seem to struggle with a previous back injury, so that is one plus heading into Tuesday's must-win against Berdych.
Nishikori owns a 4-2 advantage in six career meetings. The two have not met since 2014 when they split two matches at the Kooyong exhibition early in the season before the Australian Open. In those six meetings, just one has come on an indoor surface. Back in 2012, Nishikori defeated Berdych 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Basel. It should be noted that they have not met since the Japanese's rise through the latter part of 2014 into 2015. This will be a different Nishikori and Berdych for that matter than either has seen in previous encounters.
Slow Conditions In London
The court speed at The O2 Arena have been talked about quite a bit over the first two days of the tournament. Andy Murray remarked after his win over David Ferrer on Monday that the ball was bouncing low off the surface, but that he thought the speed was slightly faster than the last ATP tournament in Paris. Either way, the speed is still not very quick and that should favor Nishikori just slightly. It should enable him to use his speed and athleticism to chase down more balls. Berdych has shown an ability to succeed on slower courts, so he too will not be out of sorts. Still, faster conditions would have figured to benefit his serve which can be an advantage when conditions dictate.
What To Expect
It is a bit of guess work looking at this one. Was Nishikori off his game against Novak Djokovic or was Djokovic just in Terminator mode where anyone would have looked poor playing against him? This columnist would expect some improvement from the 8th seed against Berdych simply because there will be less pressure on him each point. There is simply no comparison right now to the pressure that Novak Djokovic puts on a player in every point both offensively and defensively.
Berdych for his part has a pattern when he plays the Tour Finals. He loses his opener in Round Robin play and then he wins his second match. All five years he has made this event, that has been his pattern. On the court, he will also need plenty of improvement to get a win. Berdych's serve can be a weapon if he consistently gets his first serve in play. He will need that against Nishikori who is an excellent returner.
Nishikori has the better ground game of the two when he is at his best with an ability to hit amazing shots from both his forehand and backhand side. Berdych should look to be aggressive and keep the baseline rallies minimal as Nishikori should win the rallies if he's fully fit. This is difficult to call with both men not looking sharp in their openers, so there is some question about what they will show in this match. The Czech played better down the stretch on this surface, so look for him to perhaps just sneak over the finish line for the win.
Prediction: Berdych wins in three sets.