There was shock in Miami yesterday when the world number five seed Roger Federer failed to win his quarterfinal fight. Instead he was defeated in a nail-biting three set thriller, by the little known 21st seed Japanese player, Kei Nishikori. Despite being up a break twice in the second set, the Swiss player was unable to match Nishikori’s consistently deep baseline accuracy and eventually ended up being beaten 6-3, 5-7, 4-6.
As a result, the tennis world has started to sit up and take notice of Nishikori, particularly in light of the revelation that the Japanese man is one of the few people out of the top 5 seeds to hold a winning record against the Swiss. In the three times they have met during their careers, this is now Nishikori’s second win, a fact he was quick to highlight in the aftermath of the match.
Federer congratulated his opponent on his unexpected victory and explained that he struggled to find his form, which has been so impressive recently, during the match. He had particular difficulty with his serve which he claims was both unexpected and a source of irritation to the Swiss player. However, he acknowledged that he had been outplayed on the day and added, a little ungraciously, that it was the Japanese players “credit” that Nishikori had managed to “stay with him” and ultimately close out the game in his favor.
As Federer failed to win his quarterfinal fight, it now means Nishikori has secured his place in his first semifinal in two and a half years, and only the second of his career. His performance so far has been completely beyond expectation and his ability to dispatch Federer and David Ferrer in his fourth round match certainly makes him the dark horse of the Sony Open. However, he will need to continue his incredible form and possibly exceed it if he intends to overcome Serbia’s resident tennis golden boy, Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian players own quarter-final match against the British number one seed, Andy Murray, was marked by upset and drama as Murray fell to Djokovic amid controversial net calls and apparently poor umpiring. The match itself suffered as a result, not delivering in terms of expected quality and much shorter than expected. However, after his defeat, Murray maintained that he was not bitter about the call and that he did have a chance in the second set when he was a break up, to come back into the game. Djokovic was apparently unaware of the rule stating players cannot hit the ball before it has actually passed onto their side of the court. If he had known, he stated he would have conceded the point, and he noted that the mix up clearly had a negative impact on the Brit’s mental composure during the game.
The other two mens quarterfinal matches are still to be played, so it remains to be seen whether Rafael Nadal will suffer a similar shocking exit or make it through to the semifinals. In the women’s game, the big match of the day is the semifinal face-off between the American power house and favorite to win, Serena Williams, and the Russian with a big voice, Maria Sharapova.
With the defending champion of the mens tournament now knocked out, and Federer’s failure to win his quarterfinal fight, the obvious assumption for the final would be a Nadal vs. Djokovic show down, however Nishikori’s winning streak means he cannot be dismissed as a contender.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion