Former world number one Novak Djokovic continues his sublime form at the Mutua Madrid Open. The Serb is the defending champion, but he has been struggling to get on a good run at tournaments, something that we're not accustomed to seeing. Nevertheless, Djokovic made a mutual decision with his coaching team to part ways, which was announced last week. However, there are reports floating about that Djokovic's coaching team knew that they would be surplus to requirements last month. The 12-time Grand Slam champion has failed to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 event in 2017 as he fell by the wayside to Nick Kyrgios in Indian Wells, relinquished his title in Miami to recover his elbow and lost to David Goffin last month in Monte Carlo. The Serb is looking to put things right in Madrid with a quarterfinal showdown with sixth seed Kei Nishikori to occur on Friday.
The 2014 US Open runner-up has been in scintillating form at the Caja Magica despite missing the events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona to heal from injury. Nishikori loves the conditions in Madrid, and he will be competing in his fifth successive quarterfinal in the Spanish capital. The sixth seed lost to Pablo Andujar in the quarterfinals, he had to retire in the final set against Rafael Nadal in 2014, and he suffered semifinal exits at the hands of Andy Murray and Djokovic, who both went on to win the titles in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Djokovic's route to the quarterfinals
The two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion received a bye into the second round as one of the top eight seeded players. Djokovic began his title defence against Spain's Nicolas Almagro, who is towards the end of his career but still a dangerous player, possessing a lot of firepower. The 12-time Grand Slam champion won the first set and lost in the second set, however, it looked as though that Djokovic would be set for an early exit. Nevertheless, the former world number one recovered from a 3-0 deficit in the final set to defeat the former four-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. In the third round, Djokovic was up against Almagro's compatriot Feliciano Lopez. For the first time since his second-round victory over Kyle Edmund, two months ago at the BNP Paribas Open, Djokovic managed to win a match in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
Nishikori's route to the quarterfinals
The 2014 finalist also received a bye in the opening round, however, it wasn't plain sailing for Nishikori in his second round match with Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine won the first set with ease but Nishikori responded and won the second set with ease, however, it was a tussle in the final set, which the sixth seed came through, 1-6, 6-0, 6-4. In the third round, Nishikori had a tough assignment with 2013 French Open finalist David Ferrer. Furthermore, Ferrer is a shell of his former self, and the former world number four recorded a confidence-boosting, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the Spaniard, advancing to his fifth consecutive quarterfinal in Madrid.
Djokovic and Nishikori have done battle on ATP World Tour courts 13 times, and the Serb has an overwhelming 11-2 head-to-head record over Nishikori. The reigning French Open champion won their first meeting with ease in the second round of the French Open in 2010, and the sixth seed won their second encounter in the semifinals in Basel in 2011, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0. However, for the first time in their career, the world number eight lead in the head-to-head when he stunned Djokovic in the semifinals of the US Open in 2014 in four sets to reach his maiden Grand Slam final.
However, that has been Nishikori's last victory over Djokovic to date as the second seed has won their next ten consecutive meetings. The 12-time Grand Slam winner won their last two meetings in 2014 in the semifinals of the final Masters 1000 of the year at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, 6-2, 6-3, and in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals in London, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0. They only met twice in 2015 in the quarterfinals in Rome which Djokovic needed three sets to do so, and comprehensively, 6-1, 6-1 in their round robin encounter in London. They met a staggering six times in 2016 with Nishikori only winning a solitary set in those encounters. The former world number one dispatched Nishikori in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, the final in Miami, 6-3, 6-3 and in last year's semifinal meeting in Madrid. Their most competitive encounter to date was their semifinal, a war of attrition match in Rome, which Djokovic managed to win, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5), and ultimately, had nothing in the tank in the final against Murray. They met in a Masters 1000 final for the second time in Toronto which Djokovic prevailed 6-3, 7-5, and their last meeting was in the semifinals at the ATP World Tour Finals, 6-1, 6-1.
Who reaches the semifinals?
The two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion has produced some good tennis in the Spanish capital. Djokovic knows Nishikori well, and he knows that he will have to serve well in order to beat the Japanese star. Nishikori is a very good returner, and he has the firepower to beat Djokovic. The sixth seed's groundstrokes work well on clay, and he likes to dominate play from the baseline. Nishikori's backhand also possesses a lot of power, and like Djokovic, the 2014 runner-up is able to wear down his opponents. Ultimately, Djokovic has the mental edge over Nishikori in recent months, and he will fancy his chances of defeating him once again.
This is the first match scheduled on the Manolo Santana court at 11 am local time, and the winner of this quarterfinal match will play four-time champion Rafael Nadal, ninth seed David Goffin or 16th seed Nick Kyrgios for a place in the final.
Prediction: Nishikori in three sets.