Kei Nishikori survived an almighty scare in his first round match with talented Russian, Andrey Kuznetsov. The three-time Australian Open quarterfinalist is hoping to win his first Grand Slam singles title in 2017 but remaining injury-free will be key for Nishikori's Slam credentials.
Nishikori's second round opponent will be 2013 Australian Open quarterfinalist Jeremy Chardy. The Frenchman is an experienced campaigner on the ATP World Tour, and he is more than capable of causing problems for the fifth seed.
How they got here
The 2014 US Open finalist was up against Kuznetsov in the first round, and the fifth seed had to come through a tough five-set thriller. Nishikori dropped the first set 5-7, but he took the next two sets, 6-1, 6-4, Kuznetsov took the fourth set 6-7, and Nishikori raced through the final set, 6-2, to keep his title hopes alive. The performance from Nishikori was very lethargic.
Chardy may have the advantage physically in this second round match with Nishikori as the Frenchman only had to play four games as Nicolas Almagro, who retired at 4-0 down in the opening set.
Nishikori and Chardy have met on six occasions, and the fifth seed leads 4-2 in their head-to-head. The Japanese star leads 3-0 on hard courts, and Chardy leads 2-1 on clay courts.
The world number five won their first hard court meeting in the first round of the Miami Open in 2011, in straight sets, 7-6 (5), 6-2. The Frenchman won their next two meetings on clay, with his first victory over Nishikori coming in the round of 16 in Acapulco in 2012, 1-6, 7-6 (8), 6-0. Chardy's most recent victory over Nishikori was at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome in 2013 in emphatic fashion, 6-4, 6-1. However, Nishikori has strengthened his lead in their encounters by winning their three recent meetings on the bounce. The fifth seed defeated the world number 71 in the quarterfinals in Tokyo in 2014, 6-4, 6-2, followed by a second round victory at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris in 2015, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (6), 6-1. Nishikori won their last meeting in the round of 16 on the clay courts in Barcelona, 6-3, 7-5 last year.
The three-time quarterfinalist in Melbourne will be grateful for that day off to recuperate and pleased to still be involved in the tournament. Nishikori will need to conserve energy if he is going to win this title. His draw in the top half is extremely tough as a projected fourth round meeting with four-time champion Roger Federer, and a quarterfinal meeting with world number one Andy Murray is on the cards.
Although Chardy hasn't defeated Nishikori on hard courts, he will provide a tough test for the Japanese star. The Frenchman's groundstrokes and big serve are dangerous weapons which can harm Nishikori, moreover, Chardy can struggle against the top players, and over five sets, you have to fancy Nishikori.
Nishikori is one of the best returners on the tour, and he will have plenty of chances to break Chardy's serve if it is not firing on all cylinders. The Japan native will ideally want to win this match in straight sets, should he be taken to four or five sets, it could seriously dent his title chances. Nishikori's backhand and forehand are strong, once they are firing, and they cause the best players in the world, many problems to deal with.
This is the first match scheduled in the Hisense Arena at 11 am local time on Day Three, and the winner of this match will have a winnable third-round tie against Slovakian qualifier Lukas Lacko or Dudi Sela.
Prediction: Nishikori to win in four sets