Will Khachanov Or Nishioka Triumph In Zhuhai?
Both men enjoyed bright starts to the season but then endured a rough patch after Roland Garros, with a back injury forcing Khachanov to the sidelines and a form slump hitting Nishioka’s confidence.
But after a superb week at the Huafa Properties Zhuhai Championships, including strong semi-final wins, the two players are one triumph away from claiming their first ATP Tour title for 2023.
It will be the fifth Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting between the pair, with Khachanov leading their series 3-1, the most recent of which was a straight set triumph in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.
Nishioka had claimed their previous encounter in Washington a year earlier but said he was thrown by the tactics deployed by Khachanov when beaten 6-0 6-0 7-6 (4) at Melbourne Park.
“It’s going to be a very tough match for me tomorrow because at the Aussie Open, he played a bit of a different way. I was very confused to play against him … and he knew how to play against me,” he said.
“But the surface here is a little bit faster and this is a different heat as well. I know what he is going to do me, so I need to fix that and maybe if I can do pretty well, maybe I will have a chance.”
Khachanov, who is seeking his fifth ATP Tour title but first since 2018, praised his Japanese rival as a great tactician on the court and is mindful he will need to perform well to claim the title.
“Nishioka, his main strength are his legs and his backhand. His flat backhand. He controls it very well. These are his main weapons,” he said.
“He knows how to play. He also puts you in difficult positions. He is a very smart and intelligent player.”
Timing is critical in tennis and for Nishioka, there is no sweeter spot on the Tour than the week he celebrates his birthday, with the left-hander turning 28 on the day after Tuesday night’s final.
Last year the No. 46 player in the Pepperstone ATP Tour Rankings claimed his second title when winning in Seoul in the week of his birthday.
In 2018 in Shenzhen, Nishioka came from qualifying to win his maiden ATP Tour title in the last week of September.
“This is pretty interesting. I have no idea why this (is a) week I always have a good time. Maybe it is (because) it is my birthday week, or something,” Nishioka said.
“It is amazing. Two times a title in this week and now I have the chance to win another title in this week.
“I wasn’t expecting (this). It is a little bit of a surprise. Yesterday was my best match in a couple of months and, little by little, I am playing better on these courts, this surface and in this heat.”
Khachanov was disappointed to miss Wimbledon after reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, and he was still building his fitness when he resumed at the US Open.
He has trained solidly since then but was not certain how long it would take him to recapture the form that saw him return to the Top 10 midway through this year.
“There is one thing you wish and you would like and the other thing is reality,” he said.
“It is just a fact. I was not as ready as I am now. But I had a good block when I felt much better and there was a point… where I felt my tennis was coming back, but it was still on the practice court. I needed to play matches and tournaments. It is another process you need to go through.
“My wishes were to do well from the beginning but the expectation was… that I would fight and give my best and to see how I would go.”