Kei Nishikori lost the first set of Wednesday's quarterfinal match against the legendary Roger Federer at the 2014 Sony Open, but the upstart underdog was undaunted by the early deficit.
By stringing together some beautiful tennis and attacking Federer with fervor, Nishikori roared back to win the Miami Masters match by a score of 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. That sets up Nishikori for a semifinal showdown with another superstar in Novak Djokovic.
It was not the prettiest match from Federer, but Nishikori deserves credit for the impressive stat line he put together, per TennisTV:
Here are the stats to digest. Great performance by Nishikori and a great match. pic.twitter.com/mEUMG9txY7— TennisTV (@TennisTV) March 27, 2014
After fighting off four match points and eventually defeating David Ferrer in an upset victory in the match that preceded this, it appeared Nishikori may be on the wrong end of that deal in the final set. Federer fell behind 0-40 on serve at 4-5 but rallied back to make it 30-40 and perhaps work himself back into the game.
Nishikori dashed Federer fans' hopes of a comeback with a backhand winner to secure the breakthrough triumph. Afterward, Nishikori spoke of how he's always idolized Federer, per the New York Times' Christopher Clarey:
Nishikori after upsetting Federer in Miami quarters: "He's always my idol"— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 27, 2014
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times was impressed that Nishikori came back so strong after taking out such a physically fit foe in Ferrer in the fourth round:
Not shocked Nishikori beat Federer (done it before) but I am surprised he did it one day after marathon with Ferrer. Fitness WAY better now.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 27, 2014
ESPN.com's Howard Bryant also alluded to Nishikori's enhanced fitness in his analysis:
The physicality of Fed-Nishikori and the obvious improvement of Kei 's fitness another reason why you don't see teenagers dominate anymore— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) March 27, 2014
Funny enough, Federer felt before the match that he had at least somewhat of an advantage over Nishikori due to the length of his previous outing, per ATPWorldTour.com:
Clearly I think it's an advantage at this point now that I had a quick match today and he had a really brutal match against Ferrer. Can I take advantage of it? Can he recover quickly? We will see tomorrow. But I'm sure we will see him out on the court, and he will give it everything he has. He always has.
Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated provided a fitting summary of Federer's tough day at the office:
To sum up Roger Federer's day: Got pooped on by a bird, his match was ignored by television, and he lost to Kei Nishikori. Not a great day.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 27, 2014
This was the second time in less than a year that Nishikori topped Federer, adding to his victory in the third round of the Madrid Open in May 2013.
There is no question that Nishikori has elevated his game this season, particularly at the Sony Open. Beating Ferrer and Federer in back-to-back matches is no fluke, and he had to be especially nimble on Crandon Park's hard-court surface.
What do you make of Kei Nishikori's recent run at the Miami Masters?
Federer is the one who's been reputed as such a fit player. Though he's never had the muscular frame of some of his elite predecessors and contemporaries, the footwork and grace with which King Roger has moved throughout his storied career is second to almost no one.
After a rather strong start to 2014, this loss continues a downward trend for Federer. After beating Tomas Berdych in the final in Dubai, he lost the final to Djokovic at Indian Wells and now must go back to the drawing board after this setback.
Djokovic presents a far more physically imposing challenge than both Ferrer and Federer did to Nishikori. However, if the 24-year-old Japanese sensation can hold up as well as he has in the tournament thus far, there's no point in counting him out against the Serbinator.
Nishikori's recent strong form could be the beginning of bigger and better things to come, but he must keep this up in the coming events to avoid such tough draws and build on these positive results in Miami.