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US Open 2014 Men's Semifinals: Nishikori vs. Djokovic Preview and Prediction

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistSeptember 4, 2014

US Open 2014 Men's Semifinals: Nishikori vs. Djokovic Preview and Prediction

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    Kei Nishikori during his quarterfinals match against Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Kei Nishikori during his quarterfinals match against Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 U.S. Open.Mike Groll/Associated Press

    When Kei Nishikori takes on Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open, get ready for a marathon between a couple of sprinters.  

    It's a battle between a first-time semifinalist and a seven-time Grand Slam winner. Top-ranked Djokovic will be trying to reach his fifth consecutive U.S. Open final.

    Nishikori became the first Japanese player to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam since Jiro Satoh at Wimbledon in 1933. Djokovic is trying to become the only man to win two Slams this year.

    While the match's outcome is uncertain, one thing you can expect is that two of the quickest players on the tour will leave few balls uncontested.

    Unlike the rivalries shared by members of the Big Four, Nishikori and Djokovic have little history. They have played just twice.

    Based on how they have performed this tournament, both better pack extra sneakers. Shoe tread is going to suffer. 

Who Has the Historic Edge?

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    Kei Nishikori celebrates his quarterfinals win over Stanislas Wawrinka.
    Kei Nishikori celebrates his quarterfinals win over Stanislas Wawrinka.Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Surprisingly, Nishikori and Djokovic have met only twice, once on clay and once on hard courts. They split their meetings.

    They were set to meet in Miami this year, but Nishikori withdrew from the tournament with an injury.

    The last time they played, Nishikori defeated Djokovic 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-0 in Basel, Switzerland in 2011. However, Djokovic enjoys a huge edge in Grand Slam semifinal appearances. He'll be playing in the semis at the U.S. Open for the eighth straight year. 

How Nishikori Has Looked so Far at the US Open

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    Kei Nishikori reaches to make a play on the ball during his fourth-round match at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Kei Nishikori reaches to make a play on the ball during his fourth-round match at the 2014 U.S. Open.Elsa/Getty Images

    Nishikori sailed through the early rounds, but boy, did he make up for it in his last two matches. Both exceeded four hours.

    He survived big-serving Milos Raonic in the fourth round. Their match ended at 2:36 a.m. ET, tying a record for the latest finish in U.S. Open history. Nishikori did more than outlast Raonic. When it appeared the big Canadian no longer had legs to go the distance, Nishikori stepped up his game.

    Against Wawrinka, Nishikori had to fight off one of the most devastating backhands in tennis. Wawrinka, like Raonic, has a big first serve. Nishikori countered Wawrinka's serve by holding his own and forcing tiebreakers. He defeated Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4.

    After the match, an exhausted Nishikori said, via The Guardian"I don’t know how I finished the game, but I’m happy." 

How Djokovic Has Looked so Far at the US Open

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    Novak Djokovic during his match against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Novak Djokovic during his match against Andy Murray in the quarterfinals of the 2014 U.S. Open.USA TODAY Sports

    Djokovic has looked every bit the top-ranked player he is. His quarterfinals match against Andy Murray was the first time Djokovic dropped a set.

    Murray outplayed Djokovic in the second set. He secured the set by jumping out to a big lead in the tiebreaker. That set seemed to wake Djokovic up. He made quick work of Murray after that. 

    Although he's shown minor bouts of frustration and fatigue, Djokovic has played mentally and physically strong. He has looked fresh and focused. 

Biggest X-Factors in the Semifinal

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    Kei Nishikori celebrates his quarterfinals win over Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Kei Nishikori celebrates his quarterfinals win over Stan Wawrinka at the 2014 U.S. Open.USA TODAY Sports

    How Nishikori's body will hold up is often a question. He is somewhat like the Dwyane Wade of tennis. He punishes his body to make plays and pays for it with injuries.

    Can he endure what is sure to be a physically grueling match? 

    Another factor will be the crowd. Djokovic loves to engage an audience. But for all his jovial gesturing, he's yet to garner the beloved status enjoyed by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Because of this, Nishikori, a fan favorite and underdog, might have the folks in Arthur Ashe solidly behind him. 

Nishikori Will Win If...

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    Kei Nishikori rips a forehand during his match against Stan Wawrinka.
    Kei Nishikori rips a forehand during his match against Stan Wawrinka.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Nishikori must continue to play fearless tennis. He has to stay aggressive yet remain patient. Djokovic will not hand over points easily.

    He's already seen bigger serves than anything Djokovic can deliver. After Nishikori has retrieved missiles from Raonic and Wawrinka, no first serve should appear too intimidating. He needs to attack early and often. 

    He must also hold his serve and keep the pressure on Djokovic. This is where Nishikori is at his finest. Forget what you've heard about his reputation of folding under pressure. Nishikori is 14-2 this year in decisive sets and 4-0 in five-setters. 

Djokovic Will Win If...

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    Novak Djokovic serves during his match against Andy Murray at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Novak Djokovic serves during his match against Andy Murray at the 2014 U.S. Open.USA TODAY Sports

    Djokovic is clearly the superior player. However, he was the superior player at the Australian Open where he lost to Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals. Near the end of the match, Djokovic played some loose points that allowed Wawrinka to seal the victory.

    Djokovic has to avoid getting tight and spraying forehands wide. He will be facing a player who thrives on forcing errors. 

    One of the best front-runners, Djokovic must jump on every break-point opportunity. Whatever confidence Nishikori has, Djokovic will want to snuff it out. 

Prediction

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    Novak Djokovic gestures to the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium during his win over Andy Murray at the 2014 U.S. Open.
    Novak Djokovic gestures to the crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium during his win over Andy Murray at the 2014 U.S. Open.USA TODAY Sports

    Nishikori has proved he can go the distance in a five-setter and withstand the power of a heavy hitter. However, what he will face against Djokovic is a player who can outclass him on every shot. 

    Nishikori has the energy and defensive skills to hang with Djokovic in stretches, but eventually Djokovic will wear him down.

    Be sure to schedule a recording on your DVR. This match promises to feature spectacular shot-making moments. In the end, Djokovic, the ultimate shot-maker, will prevail. He will defeat Nishikori in four sets. 

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