ATP Indian Wells Quarterfinal Preview: Rafael Nadal - Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori of Japan shakes hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain after defeating him during day five of the Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium on August 14, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Kei Nishikori defeated Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4. (Photo by Minas Panagiota

ATP Indian Wells Quarterfinal Preview: Rafael Nadal - Kei Nishikori

Kei Nishikori and Rafael Nadal meet for a ninth time in their careers, with the Japanese fifth seed trying to make it back-to-back wins for the first time ever against the Spaniard.

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Noel John Alberto

The top half quarterfinals held with seeds as Rafael Nadal, Kei Nishikori, Novak Djokovic, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all advanced to the final eight of the BNP Paribas Open. Kicking off things in Stadium 1 is Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori, the first of two blockbuster men’s quarterfinals. The winner of this match will meet the winner of Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for a spot in the final.

Nadal’s Road To The Quarters

The four seed hasn’t had the easiest time in the California desert but has managed to defend his points by making the quarterfinals once again. Being seeded, Nadal received a bye into the second round where he met Gilles Muller. He escaped a three-setter, before meeting Fernando Verdasco. The world number five was hoping for revenge against Verdasco who defeated him at the Australian Open. He did just that, winning in straights and saving five set points in the second set tiebreak.

In his fourth round match, the talented teen Alexander Zverev was up for the challenge, taking the first set tiebreak. Nadal landed a massive blow to the German with a bagel in the second set. However, Zverev came back and held match point before netting a simple volley which froze him, dropping the third set 7-5.

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point during his match against Alexander Zverev of Germany at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates a point during his match against Alexander Zverev of Germany at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2016 in Indian Wells, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Nishikori’s Road To The Quarters

The Japanese fifth seed opened up his Indian Wells campaign against Mikhail Kukushkin. Nishikori took care of him in straights with ease and then met Steve Johnson in the third round. Despite the straight sets scoreline, Nishikori was pushed, coming from a break down to win the first set tiebreak. He was then pushed into a second set tiebreak after failing to serve out for the match at 5-3.

Like Nadal, Nishikori was put to the test in his fourth round match, facing John Isner. The big-serving American was lethal in the first set, winning 6-1. Nishikori did not let that hinder him though, winning a second set tiebreak to force a decisive set. Isner held match point like Zverev, but fell short as the five seed moved on to the quarterfinals.

Head-To-Head

Despite Nadal dominating the head-to-head 7-1, Nishikori has had his number as of late. The Japanese had to retire in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open despite leading a set, as his back gave out on him, allowing Nadal to win the match in three. Last summer, Nishikori picked up his first win over Nadal, a convincing 6-2, 6-4 win in the quarterfinals of the Rogers Cup.

Analysis

This is the second straight matchup where Nadal is going to have to target the forehand wing of his opponent, with it being the weaker wing. Zverev showed off his world-class backhand against Nadal, and Nishikori will do the same. The Spaniard is going to have to play much better than he did against the German to keep it competitive with Nishikori.

A key to this match will be Nadal’s depth on his groundstrokes, especially his backhand, too many times over the last year, the lack of depth and pace on his shots have left his shots to be picked on, putting Nadal on the defensive. The four seed will have to play more like he did against Verdasco, in hopes of not getting blown out against Nishikori like he did in Toronto.

Another key to this match will be first serve percentage for both players, their second serves lack pace and direction, meaning they’ll be attacked. The player who gets the higher percent of their first serves in will be the one more likely to win their match.

Prediction: Nishikori in three

Both men received a day off after their respective round of 16 match, but it was Nishikori who should be the more confident of the two after “winning” his match rather having it “handed to him” after the missed volley from Zverev. The day conditions will mean the court will play a tad faster than usual. The Japanese has just been striking the ball better, giving him the slight edge on this one.

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