Match Preview: Tomas Berdych v Kei Nishikori

The second day of action at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters is approaching and we have a fantastic match second on Court Rainier III with twelfth seed Tomas Berdych from the Czech Republic taking on the Japanese Kei Nishikori in what is probably the highlight first round match of this event. Berdych is the favourite to get the win but the margin is extremely tight so there is no real likely result.

Recent Form

It has been an average year so far for Tomas Berdych as he has got some good results but he has been a bit inconsistent. He started the year at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open and was the victim of an upset by Jan-Lennard Struff in an extremely tight first round. His Australian Open was actually quite successful as he got good wins on the way to a quarterfinal loss at the hands of eventual champion Roger Federer. He then played some indoor European events and made it to the quarterfinals of the Rotterdam Open before withdrawing due to illness prior to his match with David Goffin and then he made the semifinals of the Open 13 with a win over Damir Dzhumur before falling to eventual champion Karen Khachanov. His Sunshine Double was a bit of a let-down but that was partly due to rough draws as he went out in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open to Hyeon Chung and then the third round of the Miami Open to Frances Tiafoe, which was his last match before the clay season. Kei Nishikori had a late start to the season as he returns from a wrist injury and he has been struggling on the tour since his return. He played his first few matches back in two challenger events and he actually won the second one in Dallas with a win over Mackenzie McDonald in the final. He played his first ATP event back at the New York Open and he did have a good run to the semifinals with a win over Evgeny Donskoy before he fell to eventual champion Kevin Anderson. His warm-up event for the sunshine double was Acapulco and he had a tough draw there which saw him fall in the first round to Denis Shapovalov. After missing the BNP Paribas Open due to illness, he was handed another rough draw at the Miami Open and fell in the third round to Juan Martin del Potro. I have to give the edge in confidence to Berdych because he has played more on the ATP tour in recent weeks.

Monte-Carlo Record

There is a long history between Monte-Carlo and Tomas Berdych as he has played the event an incredible thirteen times and has an average result of the third round which is not too bad considering how often he has played. His best result came in 2015 when he went on a run to the final with wins over Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic before falling in three sets to Novak Djokovic, who was dominating at the time. His worst result is the first round and he has only fallen at that stage twice with the first time coming on his debut in 2004 when he was just eighteen and came through qualifying before Jean-Rene Lisnard defeated him and then he fell at that stage again in 2009 to Fabio Fognini. In the case of Kei Nishikori, he has played a lot less frequently with his only prior appearance coming in 2012 and he went out in the third round to none other than Tomas Berdych. The clear edge in how comfortable they feel in Monte-Carlo has to go to Berdych because he has played twelve more times than Nishikori and has better results here.

Head to Head Record

Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych have both been on the tour for quite a while so it no surprise that they have played five times on the tour but the somewhat surprising thing is that Nishikori leads the win-loss record dominantly 4-1 with their match mostly coming on hard courts. The only time they haven’t played on hard, it was on the clay and that actually came at the 2012 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters with sixth seed Berdych getting the 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over twelfth seed Nishikori. I would have thought that this is a match the Japanese man would have won because he has better defensive skills than Berdych which would be beneficial on the clay but the Czech can tone down the aggression when needed in a match. They have met in Nishikori’s home country before and that was in 2012 as well at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships with sixth seed Nishikori getting the 7-5, 6-4 win over second seed Berdych in the quarterfinals. Whenever he is playing in Asia, it is very hard to beat Nishikori as he is always intense but also deals with the conditions a lot better so this would just be a case of Berdych not being able to hit through Nishikori on this occasion. Their most recent meeting was in 2015 at the ATP World Tour Finals and eighth seed Nishikori got the group stage 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over sixth seed Berdych. This looked like a very tight match and I would have thought the Czech’s power would have been too much for Nishikori on indoor hard but there was probably the occasional error from him while Nishikori was just in form. I would have to give the edge in terms of match-up to the man leading the win-loss record, Nishikori because he knows he can beat Berdych and I do think that on the clay, his defensive skills will come in handy.

My Prediction

At this point in their careers, both of these men will know that clay is not their favourite so they will be wary but I think this will be even more challenging for Kei Nishikori because he has not played too much recently. I think that Tomas Berdych will also be really focused from the start because he knows the quality of his opponent and with Nishikori a bit nervous and tentative, I can see the opening speeding past and Berdych taking it 6-0. I do not think Nishikori will keep that tentative attitude and he might start to get stuck into some more points and that could frustrate Berdych and start making him overpress. I think it will be a tight start to the second set but after Nishikori gets some good games he will start to get more back with more aggression and he will run away with the 6-2 set. Heading into the final set, I think that Berdych will be really frustrated because he will have been wiped out in the second set after such a positive first set and he will still have the knowledge of the poor record he holds against the Japanese man. I think that Nishikori will have all the momentum going into the decider and he will race through it to take the 0-6, 6-2, 6-0 win.

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