© Peter Staples/ATP World Tour

Kei Nishikori shows his best form against Stan Wawrinka at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Brain Game: Nishikori Wins With Court Sense

Brain Game breaks down the keys to Kei Nishikori's Day Two victory at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

Look at the reality of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Eight elite players. Eight different ways to hit a forehand and a backhand.

Kei Nishikori defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3 at the O2 Arena this afternoon, mainly because of the improvement he made with where he was standing hitting the ball - not with how he hit it.

Through the 2016 season, Nishikori made contact with the ball 25 per cent inside the baseline, and 75 per cent behind it. With the Japanese star leading 6-2, 0-1, he had made contact with 33 per cent of his shots inside the baseline, clearly signaling his baseline superiority in a battle of modern day baseline Goliath’s.

“I see a lot of opportunity today, so I try to be aggressive,” Nishikori said post match. To be clear, that aggression manifested as much with his feet as with his racquet. With Nishikori leading 6-2, 2-2, he had built a 22-14 lead in baseline points won, which was significant considering how even this battle typically is between these two players.

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The more Nishikori inched forward, the more his chances of winning the point improved. Nishikori felt the magnetism of the baseline and Wawrinka clearly did not. Playing up in the court also facilitates finishing points at net, which was another clear advantage for Nishikori.

In the opening set, Nishikori hit 11 total winners to only four for Wawrinka, and won a significant 100% (7/7) at net. The Swiss star, playing deeper in the court, found it tougher to come forward, only winning two of four points approaching and volleying.

After a tight start to the match, with it evenly poised at 2-2, Nishikori won 20 of the last 26 points of the set to firmly wrestle control of the match. Almost two out of every three points (64%) for the match ended in the first four shots, with Nishikori notching up a significant 18-11 advantage in this key metric.

Interestingly, Nishikori ran slightly further in Set 1 (482m to 463m), but the good problem of knocking off volleys at the net was a contributor. He also ran slightly further in the match (1025m to 1021m), but again, that was much more because he was taking better advantage of both the front and back of the court.

Nishikori’s performance behind his second serve was also a major factor in defeating Wawrinka. Nishikori won an incredible 90 per cent (9/10) of second serve points in Set 1, and finished the match winning a commanding 74 per cent (17/23) on second serve. For Wawrinka, this part of his game was far more liability than asset. Wawrinka won 62 per cent (23/37) on first serve, but only a lowly 38 per cent (8/21) behind his second serve.

Our eyes naturally focus on the skill and power of Nishikori’s explosive technique, but don’t forget to look at where he is standing on the court to hit the ball. There is a good chance it’s going to be closer to the baseline than his opponent.

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