Kei Nishikori continues his bid for a maiden Masters 1000 crown on Wednesday when he comes up against American Donald Young in the Round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Fourth seed Kei Nishikori has been creeping somewhat under the radar this week at Indian Wells, and he’ll be searching for back-to-back quarter-finals in the Californian desert on Wednesday after coming through his first two BNP Paribas Open matches without dropping a set. His opponent - the prodigy of yesteryear Donald Young - will be contesting his first ever fourth round match at Indian Wells, with the intention of reaching his maiden Masters 1000 quarter-final if he can emerge triumphant. Nishikori will start a big favourite, but stranger things have happened in tennis - and indeed this week at Indian Wells.
Nishikori didn’t come into this tournament in promising form following an ill-fated venture to South America for the Golden Swing, where he lost the Buenos Aires final to Alexandr Dolgopolov and went down in his Rio de Janeiro opener to Thomas Bellucci. Having veered from his usual stomping ground of Memphis - a place he’s captured four straight titles - it means that Nishikori hasn’t won a title outside of Memphis since Washington D.C. in 2015, while he’s also lost his last six finals.
Not a good record for a man who earlier this year said he harbours ambitions of capturing Masters 1000 and grand slam titles in 2017. But who knows, with all the talk surrounding the ‘quarter of death’ and Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to name a few, maybe this is Nishikori’s time to strike?
The World No. 5 has been in tremendous touch so far at Indian Wells, negotiating a pair of potentially tricky opponents to sail into the Round of 16. First up was a clinical 6-3 6-4 victory over the in-form Dan Evans, while Nishikori booked his ticket into the fourth round on Tuesday with an even more impressive 6-3 6-2 triumph over Sydney champion Gilles Muller. Nishikori emerged victorious in just over an hour, with Muller serving at under 50 per cent for the match - which was always going to make life difficult for a returner with the quality of Nishikori.
So overall, not much is being said about Nishikori right now, but he’s advanced into the Round of 16 in swift, no-nonsense fashion, and he has an excellent opportunity to make just his second ever quarter-final at Indian Wells in the first match on Stadium 1 on Wednesday.
Donald Young (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Donald Young once said that it was his goal to win each grand slam twice in order to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke. It’s fair to say those lofty dreams haven’t come close to becoming reality, but the American did have a lot of unfair pressure and expectation placed upon him from a young age - thanks in part to quotes like that mind you - and over the last couple of seasons, we’ve perhaps seen the true level of Young and his place on tour.
Young has finished the last four seasons inside the top 100 - fluctuating from 48 to 96 in the world - but he hasn’t really come close to surpassing his career-high mark of No. 38 - which he dramatically fell from in 2012 courtesy of a nightmare 17-match losing streak.
Nevertheless, Young - now 27 years of age - has been enjoying a successful last month or so on tour. He reached back-to-back semi-finals at ATP 250 events at Memphis (Harrison) and Delray Beach (Sock), losing to the eventual champion in both matches. And after coming through what has been bluntly described as one of the worst matches in recent memory - a 7-5 7-6(5) win over Stefan Kozlov in the first round of Indian Wells last week - Young has put together impressive dual wins over Acapulco champion Sam Querrey (6-3 3-6 6-3) and 14th seed Lucas Pouille (6-4 1-6 6-3). It was a nervous finish to the Pouille win for Young - he needed seven match points before eventually closing it out - and the American is excited for the upcoming opportunity against Nishikori.
“It's exciting to come through and be playing consistent at least for the start of the year and just to beat back-to-back quality opponents, too,” said Young. “Kei, he's a great player. He's been playing well for a very long time. We grew up together. So hopefully I can go out there and play well, and just keep doing the right things and putting myself in the right position and playing the way I want to play and see what happens.”
Young will need to play close to the match of his life in order to prevail as he takes a daunting 0-4 record into the Round of 16, only winning one set in all of those meetings. In order to beat Nishikori you really need two things - an effective serve and weapons from the baseline. Unfortunately for Young, he doesn’t have any of those. Expect another dominant win for Nishikori to kick off Wednesday’s play at Indian Wells.