Kei Nishikori continues on his quest to capture a maiden ATP title on South American soil when he faces sixth seed Joao Sousa in the Argentina Open quarter-finals on Friday in Buenos Aires.
Eyeing off a 12th ATP World Tour title as the top seed in Buenos Aires this week, Kei Nishikori targets a spot in the Argentina Open semi-finals against the tenacious Joao Sousa of Portugal on Friday evening.
After securing a three-peat of titles at the Memphis Open over the last three years, Nishikori is hoping his good fortune transfers over to the clay of Buenos Aires, where he is playing for the first time since 2012. Nishikori survived a scare in his opener on Wednesday, coming through an inspired challenge from local hope Diego Schwartzman in three sets.
Nishikori was perhaps understandably a little rusty in the first set, relinquishing an early break and then being broken himself to lose it 5-7. However from 1-2 down in the second, Nishikori reeled off 11 of the last 14 games to claim the next two sets 6-2 6-2 and emerge a comfortable winner in the end.
Having never really recaptured the sizzling form which saw him make his one and only major final at the US Open in 2014, Nishikori has been unfortunate to run into some on-fire players in his previous two tournaments in 2017 prior to the Argentina Open. The 27-year-old toppled Stan Wawrinka en route to the Brisbane final but couldn’t find a way past Grigor Dimitrov in the final, while Nishikori was also forced to confront Roger Federer in the Australian Open fourth round, suffering a five-set defeat.
Nishikori has declared his intention to win slams in 2017, and he will definitely be looking for a more illustrious year after Memphis was his only silverware in 2016. Nevertheless, it was another typically solid season from the World No. 5, who made finals at Miami, Toronto, Barcelona and Basel, semi-finals at the US Open, Madrid, Rome, Olympics and ATP World Tour Finals, and quarter-finals at the Australian Open, Brisbane and Indian Wells.
Joao Sousa (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
For a spot in the Argentina Open semi-finals, Nishikori must defeat a man who also reached an ATP final in the opening week of 2017.
Joao Sousa enjoyed a tremendous start to the season after a patchy 2016 in which he went 27-34 for the season. The 27-year-old advanced to his eighth ATP final at the ASB Classic in Auckland, defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas, Brydan Klein, Robin Haase and Marcos Baghdatis before falling to Jack Sock in the final.
Sousa followed that result up with a disappointing showing at the Australian Open, where he went down to Jordan Thompson in five sets after squandering a two-set advantage. However Sousa has returned to winning ways this week in Buenos Aires, defeating a pair of Argentines in Horacio Zeballos and Federico Delbonis in straight sets to secure his quarter-final date with Nishikori.
The first man in history to win an ATP World Tour title from Portugal, Sousa has transformed into an effective all-court player, but there’s no doubt he still plays his best tennis on clay. Sousa’s best results last year came on the dirt, where he made the semi-finals of Nice and the quarter-finals of the Madrid Masters, along with further last eight finishes at Bastad and Umag.
Sousa actually owns a win over Nishikori, but that came in Tokyo last year when the Japanese star was forced to retire midway through the first set due to a back injury. Nishikori was shaky in his Buenos Aires opener and committed far too many unforced errors - something he cannot afford against a much better opponent in Sousa. However you’d expect Nishikori to have his eye in and produce a more clinical performance this time around.