Group stage action of the Nitto ATP Finals serves off on Sunday at The O2 in London, with Group Llyeton Hewitt getting proceedings underway.
World No.3 Roger Federer and Kei Nishikori will resume their rather lopsided affair, with both men seeking to hit the ground running for their season-ending campaigns
Federer and Nishikori have quite a history between them, having played each other nine times in the past including twice in the group stage at this event. However, these meetings have been dominated by Federer. The Swiss holds a weighty 7-2 lead in their head-to-head record, boasting six consecutive wins, and will now seek to extend that lead on Sunday.
However, despite the advantage and having also edged the Japanese in their only two encounters this year – the Shanghai Masters and Paris Masters – Federer says he will take nothing for granted against the Japanese.
“When I played him in Paris, I knew he was fighting to play in the ATP Finals, but we didn’t know what was happening with Nadal and Del Potro yet,” said Federer. “But I figured that there was a chance he’d make it and there was a chance we’d play in the group. That’s exactly what happened.
“And that’s why I tried really hard in Paris to get another win against him, to help me with confidence. I’ve always said that I like his style of play and he has one of the best backhands in the game. I’ve had some exciting matches against him. Our match in Shanghai was great. But I’m really happy for him, having made it here after being injured and a rocky start to the season.”
Nishikori had a turbulent start to the season. The Japanese returned from a wrist injury in January and started the year in the Challenger Series. He, however, returned to the main tour and has since worked his way back up into Top 10 – putting together an incredible comeback year in the process, in which he reached the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, the semifinals at the US Open and the finals in Tokyo and Vienna.
The Japanese is back in London at the ATP Finals for the fourth time in five years. But he only qualified for the event after world No.4, Juan Martin del Potro pulled out due to injury. The two-time semifinalist will now be eager to make his mark. However, he knows toppling Federer, who is bidding for an unprecedented seventh title at this event, for a start will be no easy task.
“It’s amazing how Roger is still playing well. He’s one of the toughest opponents on the tour,” said Nishikori. “While he’s not playing as much as he used to, it’s amazing how he’s so physically fit. For me, I lost to him in Shanghai and Paris recently, so I have to make adjustments on Sunday. But I always enjoy playing him and it’s a big challenge. I have to play 100 per cent.”
So, will Nishikori get his adjustments right and get off to a flying start against Federer in London, or will the great Swiss continue his dominance over the Japanese?