Nishikori man to beat at home tournament
Reigning US Open and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka has withdrawn from the ATP 500 in Tokyo this week complaining of a back injury.
The highest ranked player remaining in the field, Kei Nishikori, won here in 2012 and 2014 and is the favourite to add to his previous successes.
He may face challenges from 2008 winner Tomas Berdych, the second seeded 2010 finalist Gael Monfils, and the mercurial 2015 runner up Benoit Paire.
This article previews the contenders in Japan.
The Japanese world number 5 looks to have a plum draw in the first quarter.
Nishikori speaking ahead of this event said, “Mentally, with the rest I had after the summer and the Davis Cup, I’ve managed to refresh (myself). It’s a tough tournament nonetheless. I’ll take each match at a time.”
His quarter is tail ended by 8th seed David Goffin, who has travelled across the world after New York in an aim to rediscover his springtime form and qualify for the World Tour Finals. The Belgian will have a tough task to overcome 2 time champion Nishikori, who still has to secure his place in London and who holds a one sided 3/0 head to head – all matches having been won very comfortably.
The first quarter doesn’t look to have any obvious competition for Nishikori. His first round is against 2013 semi finalist Nicolas Almagro, but his best days on hard courts are behind him with a poor 45.45% win rate on hard courts in 2016.
In the second round Kei is set to face the winner of Martin Klizan and Joao Sousa – a couple of players with absolutely no hard court form to speak of this season.
Perhaps Goffin may have more trouble living up to his seeding. He faces ‘NextGen’ talent Yoshihito Nishioka in the R32, who is the only player in Quarter 1 to have won a hard court title in the past 12 months – albeit at Challenger level. The winner of that match will face the winner of Jiri Vesely and Kevin Anderson. The big South African is coming back to form after an injury plagued season, but he has to overcome poor performances in Tokyo in past years and a recent defeat to Vesely at Winston-Salem.
Verdict – Big surprise if Nishikori doesn’t advance.
Marin Cilic made the quarter final here last year, and is favourite to repeat the feat. The Croatian has had a decent summer on the hard courts with a win in Cincinnati and should have too much for the opposition in his quarter.
It won’t be easy however, as last year’s beaten finalist Benoit Paire is his first opponent. The players have split their 2 career meetings, with both being settled in the final set. Paire’s record on hard courts this season is so-so and he has fallen to defeat in 4 of his last 6 matches.
Go Soeda or Fernando Verdasco lie in wait for the winner of the Paire-Cilic clash. The players have met 2 times previously with Verdasco winning in straight sets on both occasions. If Verdasco spends a little too much time in the bright lights of Roppongi Soeda is not without a chance – he possesses the better hard court stats and 8 week form.
The other seed in this quarter is Feliciano Lopez. The leftie has up and down form of late with an underperformance in China last week balanced with a final appearance in Los Cabos. James Duckworth is a tricky first round for Feli, but he holds competitive hard court stats and qualified quite strongly.
The winner will have a potentially tough match against the winner of Taylor Fritz and Juan Monaco, playing on a protected ranking. The young American started the season strongly and has good form on the faster courts this season, even if his 8 week form isn’t the best. Young players typically have form peaks and troughs. Having had some down time since the US Open it may be enough to reinvigorate him in Tokyo.
Verdict – Cilic has a tough draw, a streaky Paire or Fritz may capitalise
Nick Kyrgios will fancy his chances of at least matching his quarter final appearance last season. His first 2 rounds look comfortable featuring a pair of qualifiers and journeyman Stephane Robert.
The Australian is projected to meet Shenzhen champion Tomas Berdych in the first round. The Czech won Tokyo in 2008 but has played a lot of tennis this week and might not have the energy to overcome a tricky looking segment. First round opponent Gilles Muller was a semi-finalist last year, and should he win that there is Granollers or Baghdatis to overcome.
This section looks good for Kyrgios. There is always doubts about his motivation from one week to the next but he should relish the fast court conditions typical in the Japanese capital.
Verdict – Kyrgios to play himself into form in 3rd quarter.
A replay of the Washington final is on the cards should Gael Monfils and Ivo Karlovic live up to their seedings.
Monfils has fine 2015 hard court form, winning 26 of 31 matches and made the US Open semi final recently. This is the Frenchman’s first Tokyo appearance since an early exit in 2013, but he does have a runner up credit to his name from 2010. Monfils sits pretty at 6th in the race to London, and will be seeking a good week here to cement his qualification chances.
Gael has a kind first round draw on paper against wild card Yuichi Sugita, who has never made much of an impact at his home event. Sugita has some good recent form and it is unfortunate that he faces the Frenchman in round 1.
The second round opponent for the second seed will be the winner of a tasty looking affair between tour veterans Gilles Simon and Philipp Kohlschreiber. The German has not played too much tennis lately and has no hard court form to speak of this year. Simon hasn’t had the best of seasons either, but he has a QF and SF finish in his 2 most recent Tokyo visits and narrowly leads the head to head with the German.
Simon really draws the worst out of Monfils and dominates the head to head 6/1. Monfils has elevated his game this season and will hope to gain some revenge.
At the top of the quarter, 2007 semi finalist Ivo Karlovic will try gaining some revenge on Federico Delbonis who took advantage of an injury retirement in Australia. When Ivo is fit, he leads the H2H 2/0. Karlovic has won 7 of his last 9 matches and has had a decent rest since a R16 finish in New York.
Karlovic will be made to work hard for a win in his next round against either Janko Tipsarevic or Taro Daniel. The Serbian has had a hellish spell with injuries and although he looked to be finding some old form, he retired in the Shenzhen semi final with a groin injury. Daniel won 2 Davis Cup rubbers for Japan a few weeks back, and although he rarely spends time on a hard court the Spanish dwelling, US born, Japanese player clearly has some liking to tennis in his homeland.
Verdict – Monfils to win quarter if he can gain a rare win over Simon
Nishikori to lift his 3rd Tokyo title – 3.75 with Betfair Sportsbook
I project he will face the winner of Monfils and Kyrgios, and in fast conditions I am edging towards Kyrgios who can be matched at a best price of 11 with Betfred.
Paire at 81 with Skybet is too big given his 2015 performance.
Fritz at 101 with Betfred could give value if he rises to his potential.