Novak Djokovic (L) and Kei Nishiori at the 2014 US Open
Novak Djokovic defeated Tallon Griekspoor in straight sets on Thursday to reach the third round of the 2021 US Open. The Serb is vying to become the leader of the all-time Slam race by winning his 21st Major title, and in the process also become the first man since 1969 to complete the Calendar Slam.
He will next take on familiar foe Kei Nishikori in the third round of the tournament on Saturday. Novak Djokovic has a lopsided 17-2 head-to-head record against the Japanese, with his last defeat coming at this very tournament all the way back in 2014.
Many attribute Djokovic’s superiority in the rivalry to the fact that he can do everything Nishikori can, but better. Speaking after his own five-set win over Mackenzie Mcdonald, the Japanese listed the attributes that make Djokovic such a tough opponent.
“Well, I think his best thing is controlling the ball,” Nishikori said. “He can hit anywhere from both sides. He’s been serving well. Best return on the tour. Maybe compared to other guys, less unforced errors. I mean, he has everything. I think that’s couple (of) good things.”
Nishikori’s 2014 win over Djokovic in the US Open semifinals is widely considered the most significant result of his career. The 31-year-old reminisced about that match on Thursday, calling it one of his best ever matches.
“I think it was one of my best match(es),” Nishikori said. “Yeah, I mean, because of that I think it’s little better feeling that I have playing here. I mean, even though he (Novak Djokovic) is the best player, I have a good memory of playing and beating him at the US Open before.”
Nishikori went on to add that the key to defeating the Serb is a mixture of aggression and patience.
“Well, I have to stay patient,” he said. “I still have to play great tennis to beat him. Same time I have to be aggressive. He’s not going to give me any free points so I have to earn the points. I think, yeah, being aggressive is the key.”
“I love the challenge” – Kei Nishikori ahead of his encounter against Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (L) and Kei Nishikori at the 2016 Miami Open
During the course of the press conference, Kei Nishikori also claimed that while he “loves the challenge” of going up against Novak Djokovic, he would rather go up against someone ranked lower.
“It’s a lot of things. Obviously, I love the challenge,” Nishikori said. “Now he’s one of the best on the tennis tour. It’s not something I love to play all the time because, I mean, obviously he’s the toughest opponent, one or two. I (would) rather have someone rank lower.””I mean, I always love the challenge,” he added. “Even though I had a bad record, I always try to be positive. I’m sure it’s going to be tough one, but I do my best.”
Later during the press conference, Nishikori also agreed with a reporter that Novak Djokovic’s bid would put additional pressure on the Serb, and that he could take advantage of that.