Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori meet for the first time this season in the final Round Robin match for both at this week's ATP World Tour Finals. Federer has already qualified for the semifinals. Nishikori needs a win and a Novak Djokovic loss to get through.
(3) Roger Federer - (8) Kei Nishikori
Federer heads into this final Round Robin match knowing he has already clinched a spot in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals. His win over Novak Djokovic on Tuesday coupled with Kei Nishikori's three set win have seen to that. Federer will hold the top spot in the group even if he loses on Thursday, but would need Djokovic to beat Tomas Berdych to seal that spot. It should mean that Federer will not be letting up even after his stunning 7-5, 6-2 win over Djokovic that ended the Serb's 23 match win streak. Admittedly, Djokovic said he was not feeling his best during the match and it did show with a slew of unforced errors in the second set. Still, the win will breed confidence for the Swiss third seed the rest of the tournament. His first serve was again enormous in the Djokovic match as Federer took 27 of 36 points against the best returner in the game. Federer was also ruthless in breaking the Serb when he got the chance as he converted four of eight break points in the match.
Nishikori looked more comfortable overall in his three set win over Tomas Berdych in the last match. Nishikori won the two hour and 23 minute match 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. The 8th seed did struggle in the second set after securing an early break. Up 2-0, the Japanese fell victim to Berdych's increased aggressiveness and power on his ground strokes. The Czech reeled off five straight games at one point to take the second set. Nishikori was able to regain his composure in the final set and show better consistency in his ground strokes to pull out the win. Nishikori's serve was much more effective than in his opener as he won 75 percent of the points on his first serve. He was still broken twice on three chances by Berdych. The key now will be to see how much of that last match was Nishikori improving and how much of it was not simply playing someone not named Novak Djokovic.
This will be the sixth career meeting between Federer and Nishikori. Federer leads 3-2 with the last meeting coming during the Round Robin stage of last year's ATP World Tour Finals. Federer bashed Nishikori 6-3, 6-2. He had beaten the 8th seed earlier in the season as well on grass in Halle by a score of 6-3, 7-6. That ended a two match win streak by Nishikori over the Swiss where he had beaten Roger at the Mutua Madrid Open in 2013 and then again at the Miami Open early in 2014 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Federer is 2-0 against Nishikori indoors with last year's Tour Finals win and a straight sets win over him in 2011 in Basel.
Question Marks For Both
A lot of the outcome on Thursday will depend on what version of Kei Nishikori shows up against Roger Federer. The passive version of the Japanese 8th seed that was evident against Novak Djokovic in his London opener will be hard pressed to win. The more aggressive version that showed up against Tomas Berdych will have a better chance to compete and perhaps pull off a win. At his best, Nishikori has unreal shot making ability and plus level athleticism that allows him to play tough against the best of the best. That is the guy who can frustrate Federer on Thursday, but that is also the guy who has been missing at key moments this season. Nishikori will need to be better on-serve against the third seeded Swiss who has been broken just twice on four chances so far this week.
For Federer, the question will be how much of his win over Djokovic was Federer playing well and how much was a less-then-stellar effort from Djokovic? Djokovic gave Federer a slightly disrespectful amount of credit for the win. The Serb basically said he handed Federer the match after playing a mostly poor match overall in his own eyes. The Swiss likely will need an improved performance this time around with Nishikori the more desperate of the two players. Nishikori needs the win and some help to advance, while Federer is already headed to the semifinals in London regardless of the outcome of this match. That could of course give the Swiss the option to "rest" some in this match if things do not go his way.
It is doubtful that Federer will do anything different than trying to play his usual aggressive and short points against Nishikori. Allowing Nishikori time to set up in rallies where he can work Federer around the court could be deadly and costly for the Swiss. Nishikori quite simply needs to find his rhythm in the early stages to build momentum throughout the match. His serve will be a key indicator of what chance he will have to win. If he can land his first serve consistently with good placement, then he's going to stick in this match. If he's stumbling on first serve and leaving too many opportunities for Federer on his second, then he will struggle to compete.
Federer will continue to employ his quick and aggressive tactics. It all starts with his first serve. When the Swiss' first serve is humming, it sets him up for easily finished, short rallies and aces. Even with the slower conditions in London this week, the serve can be effective even if it is not necessarily ace-laden. Expect the Swiss to continue with another win to keep his confidence up as this tournament closes in on its business end where it turns into win or season over.
Prediction: Federer wins in three sets.