Friday, November 4, 2011

The Deuce Court: How High Can Nishikori Go?

Deuce #1: Evidently Kei Nishikori did some soul searching after his discouraging first-round retirement at the US Open, because the 21-year-old Japanese player has been red hot ever since. Either that or his year-long association with Brad Gilbert has started to take effect on his brain.

The quest to become the highest-ranked Japanese player was called "Project 45," with 45 standing for the career-high ranking of trailblazer Shuzo Matsuoka, the Bob Brett-coached player who was a formidable foe on the ATP tour in the early '90's. After flirting with Matsuoka's record ranking earlier in the season, Nishikori obliterated "Project 45" this fall when he reached his first Masters semifinal in Shanghai.

This was not a case of a gimme draw either. Nishikori beat Robin Haase, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Alexandr Dolgopolov on the way to the semifinal, and when he was done, his ranking stood at No. 30. In other words: crash, boom, bang -- Project 45 is no more.

This week Nishikori is at it again in Basel, Switzerland. He defeated Tomas Berdych for his third career top ten win in the first round and he's advanced to his third semifinal of the fall, where he'll play Novak Djokovic tomorrow. With all the confidence he's gaining, is it safe to say that a top 20 ranking is right around the corner for Nishikori?

Deuce # 2: After a pretty unfulfilling fall season, where 3 of the top 4 men were basically in hibernation, the action has heated up significantly with ATP 500 events in Valencia and Basel. The only bummer? Andy Murray, who entered Basel with a 15-match winning streak, the No. 3 ranking, and a lot of talk about 2012 being his year to step up, ended up pulling out with a sore ass. Okay, strained gluteal. Whatever.

Ad In: The Basel event is a class act all the way, and it's been a pleasure to enjoy Tennis Channel's coverage this week. From the hyper-attentive ballkids to the blue on blue color combo of the courts to the energy in the crowd when Fededer -- the only player in the event's history to win three consecutive titles -- takes the court. It's a pity that the crowds couldn't pack the beautiful St. Jakobshalle when his countrymate Stan Wawrinka takes the court, but now that he's slated to face Federer in the semis, that shouldn't be a problem tomorrow. I wonder who the Swiss faithful will be rooting for?

Deuce #3: Great to see Sam Querrey back in action this week after a long layoff due to elbow surgery, and even better to see him pulling an upset over a top ten player.

Ad Out: With all the excitement surrounding the men's game and the return -- finally -- of half of the big four, this weekend's Fed Cup final between a Petra Kvitova-led Czech team and the Vera Zvonara-less Russians in Moscow is not getting the attention it deserves. But there's still time to get excited about it. Read about it here, here and here.

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