Kei Nishikori of Japan was able to follow his convincing first round victory with another solid showcase today as he defeated Andrey Kuznetsov in one hour and 48 minutes in straight sets 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. This was Nishikori's sixtieth career win on the clay courts, a testament to his great claycourt form this year. Here is a deeper look at what happened during the match today.
Nishikori overcomes initial scare
It was not entirely smooth sailing for the fifth seed, who needed to ease his way into the match as it was Kuznetsov who broke his opponent in the third game and gain the upper hand first. Nishikori had to bring himself back and serve better to create the pressure and break his opponent to get on level terms again in the sixth game. He consolidated this with a solid hold of serve and broke Kuznetsov again in his next service game. The Japanese hit two consecutive backhand winners to snatch the break this time. He was able to serve the set out comfortably in the very next game.
Despite being on the back foot in the beginning, Nishikori was able to keep the intensity at a high level by putting in a high percentage of first serves in the first set; twenty out of his thirty-two serves were first serves, and he won fourteen of his first serve points. He also hit ten winners in the set.
Fifth Seed takes set despite minor setbacks
The second set began with both players holding serve comfortably until game four, where Kuznetsov gained two break point opportunities, both on an advantage, but was unable to make the most of them as Nishikori struggled through the game. Kuznetsov, unable to capitalize on this important moment, stumbled in the next game, serving two double faults, one on the crucial break point and gifting the fifth seed his first break of the set.
The set became slightly more interesting as the players traded breaks in games seven and eight, but Nishikori still had the advantage. As Kuznetsov was serving in game nine to attempt to remain in the set, the Japanese took his moment to shine and hit two sensational forehand winners to first create a set point opportunity and then to take it. He now just had one set to win to finish things off.
An important factor in the second set was how the fifth seed defended his break point opportunities and capitalized when he was on the other end of the spectrum. He himself won three out of four break points while Kuznetsov could only break Nishikori's serve once despite having five chances. This ultimately made all the difference.
Nishikori cruises into round three
Nishikori stepped on the accelerator in the third set and made sure his opponent got no opportunities to break serve this time. Although the Japanese hit fewer winners than his opponent, he let Kuznetsov win only a measly four out of 27 of his return points.
The set began with both players holding their service games in convincing fashion until game six, where Nishikori strung together three excellent points to gain three break point opportunities. Kuznetsov could only defend one as the Japanese broke on his second attempt to gain an important advantage in the final set. Nishikori served out the match in game nine, ending proceedings with an inspired backhand winner.
Nishikori has looked impressive with his form during this clay season, reaching the Barcelona final and reached both the semifinals at Madrid and Rome. On all three occasions, he was beaten by either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic. He will be hoping to continue this as he proceeds through the French Open. In the third round, he plays the spirited Spaniard Fernando Verdasco.