In a match that lasted three hours and 55 minutes spread across two days, Kei Nishikori overcame the resilient Benoit Paire in five thrilling sets 6-2, 6-7(8-10), 6-2, 6-7(8-10), 7-5 in the 4th round to set up an exciting quarter-final clash with the ‘King of Clay’ Rafael Nadal.
Nadal, an 11-time Roland Garros champion, cruised into his 13th French Open quarter-final with a routine 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Argentina’s Juan Ignacio Londero.
The upcoming clash against Nadal would be Nishikori’s 3rd quarter-final appearance at Roland Garros and he will look to take full advantage of the Spaniard’s apparent vulnerability on clay this season.
However, Nadal seems to have shaken off the rust he had in his game during the early parts of the clay season and following an emphatic win over Novak Djokovic in the finals at Rome, the King of Clay has looked nearly unstoppable at the French Open, having lost just a single set, against David Goffin in his 3rd round clash.
With Nishikori struggling to get past Frenchman Paire in his Round of 16 clash, there is a lot of work the Japanese needs to do to even consider challenging the most decorated player on clay in their upcoming quarter-final tussle.
Nadal and Nishikori have squared off against each other 12 times in the past and the Spaniard comfortably leads their head to head 10-2. On clay, Nishikori has managed to win just a single set in four meetings, which makes Nadal the overwhelming favourite in this match.
Recent form suggests Nishikori has next to no chance of upsetting Nadal in the quarterfinals. While Nadal has been his usual dominant self over the course of the tournament, Nishikori had to work extremely hard to get to this stage, edging past Paire and Laslo Djere in tight five-setters in the fourth and third round respectively.
However, prior to the French Open, Nadal looked quite vulnerable, losing to the likes of Fognini, Thiem and Tsitsipas before his triumph in Italy. If Nishikori can find a way to exploit these new-found weaknesses in Nadal's game, he could stand a chance of winning a set or two.
However, that is easier said than done and Nadal should have too much firepower for the Japanese to deal with.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal to win in straight-sets.