World number one and 2011 Madrid champion Novak Djokovic faces sixth seed Kei Nishikori for a spot in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open. Djokovic holds a 7-2 head-to-head lead on his Japanese opponent, with the Serb holding a 2-0 head-to-head lead on clay courts. Though the top seed has the lead in their rivalry, the two's biggest meeting came at the 2014 US Open in the last four where Nishikori claimed a memorable win in four sets.
How they got here
The top seed began his campaign for a second Madrid title with a second round meeting against young gun Borna Coric. Coric troubled the Serb at times, but ultimately it was the 2011 champion's resolve that showed through in a straight sets win for the Serb. In the next round, Djokovic faced Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, with the 11-time Grand Slam winner putting away the local player with ease 6-2, 6-1. In the quarterfinals, the world number one went up against big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic. The Serb returned beautifully the entire match, getting a superb read on the Raonic serve, culminating in a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
For Nishikori, the Japanese star began his tournament with a second round meeting with mercurial Italian Fabio Fognini. The sixth seed dealt with the volatile nature of Fognini beautifully, winning a roller coaster affair 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. In the following round, the 2014 runner-up faced Frenchmen Richard Gasquet, a player whom Nishikori had never beaten. The world number six showed impressive consistency throughout the match, with the Japanese's all court game eventually paying dividends in a 6-4, 7-5 win for last year's semifinalist. Most recently in the last eight, Nishikori fought through an extremely close match with young Aussie Nick Kyrgios 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 to move through to the semifinals in the Spanish capital.
Djokovic and Nishikori first met at the French Open in 2010, with Nishikori just a youngster coming up the ranks, eventually falling to the Serb in straight sets. The following year, the 2014 US Open finalist leveled the pair's head to head with a first ever win over Djokovic on the indoor hard courts of Basel. Djokovic and Nishikori surprisingly did not play for two years, before a semifinal meeting in Miami in 2014, where the Japanese was forced to withdraw with a calf injury. The two's most famous meeting came at the US Open later that year, where the world number six stunned the two-time champion in four sets to move into a first ever Grand Slam final. The 11-time major winner gained his revenge on Nishikori, defeating him in both Paris and at the ATP World Tour Finals later that year in London.
In their most recent meeting on clay, the world number one slugged his way past his Japanese rival in a tight three setter in Rome, before the top seed kept up his winning ways against him with a drubbing at the 02 to end their 2015 series. This year they have met two times, with Djokovic winning both in straight sets, one at the Australian Open in Melbourne, and once in the Miami final.
With Djokovic in sublime form and yet to drop a set all tournament, its difficult to bet against the world number one. On the flip side, Nishikori has shown his resolve all tournament, fighting through multiple three setters to reach the his third straight semifinal in the Spanish capital. The world number one has not played in the Caja Magica since an opening round loss in 2013 and the 2011 champion will be keen to add a second Madrid title to his trophy cabinet. Expect Nishikori to put a steady fight, but for the world number one to be too much to handle, with Djokovic moving into a second Madrid final.
Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets