Former world number four Kei Nishikori has had an indifferent 2017 campaign, with injuries continuing to hamper his career. The seventh seed had to withdraw from his quarterfinal match with world number two Novak Djokovic due to a right wrist injury at the Mutua Madrid Open. It remains to be seen whether or not if the 2014 US Open finalist will be fully fit to compete at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. The French Open is on the horizon, and Nishikori will not want to aggravate his injury, which could rule him out of Roland Garros. Nevertheless, Nishikori is a fighter and he will continue to put the disappointments behind him by competing in Rome, where he advanced to the semifinals for the first time.
Nishikori has a tricky opener at the Foro Italico as he takes on former world number three David Ferrer in the second round. The 2013 French Open finalist has struggled for form in 2017 but he defeated his compatriot Feliciano Lopez in the first round to seal a spot in the second round against Nishikori. The Spaniard's victory over Lopez was his 700th career victory, which is astonishing for Ferrer, who has not been playing his best tennis as of late. The 30th ranked Spaniard has a good record at the Foro Italico as he reached the final in 2010 losing to none other than Rafael Nadal, a semifinalist on three other occasions and a quarterfinalist twice.
Ferrer's clay court results leading up to Rome
The 35-year-old came into Rome with a torrid 3-7 win-loss record. Furthermore, his clay court results have been dismal coming into Rome. Ferrer was winless throughout the Golden Swing as he lost to Carlos Berlocq and Alexandr Dolgopolov in Buenos Aires and Rio respectively. In fact, Ferrer had a five-match losing streak as he lost to Kevin Anderson in Barcelona but he snapped his losing streak in Estoril. The current world number 30 advanced to his first semifinals of the year at the Portuguese clay court event as he defeated Frederico Ferre Silva and Ryan Harrison in straight sets. However, he was easily dispatched by compatriot and eventual champion Pablo Carreno Busta in straight sets. Ferrer won his first Masters 1000 match of the year in Madrid as he came back from a set down to defeat Mikhail Kukushkin. However, he received a walkover into the third round as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew. Unfortunately, Ferrer was no match for Nishikori as the world number nine dispatched him in straight sets.
Nishikori's notable results leading up to Rome
The 27-year-old advanced to two finals in his three events of the year. Grigor Dimitrov defeated Nishikori in three sets in the final of Brisbane, and in Buenos Aires to Dolgopolov. He lost to Roger Federer in a five-set thriller in the fourth round of the Australian Open. The Japanese star had two respectable quarterfinal finishes at the North American Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami losing to Jack Sock and Fabio Fognini. As aforementioned, Nishikori's last appearance was in Madrid, where he withdrew due to a wrist injury.
Breakdown of their rivalry
This will be the 14th encounter between the seventh seed and Ferrer, and Nishikori leads 9-4 in their encounters. Nishikori is unbeaten against Ferrer on clay with all three of their clay court clashes coming at the Caja Magica. The 2014 Mutua Madrid Open runner-up defeated Ferrer, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-3 in the semifinals in 2014, and he followed it up with a 6-4, 6-2 victory in the quarterfinals, the following year. For the third time, Nishikori got the better of the 2013 French Open finalist last week in Madrid in straight sets.
Ferrer's four victories over Nishikori have come on the hard courts in Nishikori's native Tokyo in 2011, and a straight sets victory in the fourth round of the Australian Open in 2013. Ferrer's next two victories over the world number nine came in Miami in 2013 and in the final in Acapulco in 2015. However, the seventh seed has defeated Ferrer at a Slam before. He achieved it in their first meeting in the third round of the US Open in 2008 in five sets. Nishikori would also beat the Spaniard in the third round of the London Olympics in 2012, their solitary clash on grass.
Who advances to the next round?
If Nishikori is fully fit, he should defeat Ferrer as he has been playing the better tennis than the Spaniard in recent months, and he needs to get some more matches under his belt ahead of the French Open. The seventh seed will need to serve well against Ferrer, and his forehand and backhands are ferocious, and he generates more power than Ferrer. Nishikori also likes to throw in a drop shot to trick his opponent, and he would also want to protect his wrist by finishing off the points quickly. The Japanese number one likes to dictate play from the baseline, which he will be looking to do against Ferrer. On the other hand, the 2013 French Open finalist may not be at his best anymore but he will certainly provide a stern test for Nishikori. Ferrer will want to extend the points to see if the Nishikori is struggling. The Spaniard's groundstrokes aren't as strong as Nishikori's but he's a clay court specialist and will be looking for his first victory on clay against the world number nine.
The seventh seed has a good record at the Foro Italico as he advanced to the quarterfinals in 2015 and in the semifinals last year, pushing Novak Djokovic to the brink last year. Ferrer excels in moving his opponents around the court on clay, and he will be hoping to do the same in their mouthwatering clash.
The 14th encounter between two former Grand Slam finalists will take place on Court Centrale at 12pm local time, and the winner of this match will play Kyle Edmund or Juan Martin del Potro in the third round.
Prediction: Nishikori in straight sets.