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US Open Semifinal Preview: Can Nishikori Upset Novak Djokovic?

Alex Kilpatrick

by Alex Kilpatrick in Tennis

Sep 6, 2018 · 8:34 AM PDT

Kei Nishikori US Open
Kei Nishikori upset Novak Djokovic at the US Open in 2014, can he do it again? Photo by Keith Allison (Flickr)
  • Who’s the best bet in the men’s semifinals of the US Open?
  • Who’s the best bet to win it all?
  • Remember that one time Nishikori beat Djokovic here?

The US Open is down to the last four men. Rafael Nadal survived a sweltering match against Dominic Thiem to advance to the semifinal, where he’ll meet Juan Martin Del Potro. On the other side of the draw, Novak Djokovic will meet Kei Nishikori, for a rematch of the 2014 stunner and Nishikori’s best match to date.

2018 US Open Men’s Odds (9/6/2018)

Player Odds
Novak Djokovic -110
Rafael Nadal +225
Juan Martin Del Potro +400
Kei Nishikori +1200

Nishokori is the long shot because his path to the final goes through Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is more or less on form again, his roll through John Millman was interesting mostly for its sweatiness. In fact, Djokovic appears to be back on his form as a joker, as a grumpy Nole would not have tolerated the adverse conditions well.

You can see more of this data over at our US Open Odds Tracker.

Nadal and Del Potro are both at pretty reasonable odds because that semifinal is a lot more competitive than the other. Nadal will be the favorite, but it’s a lot easier to imagine Del Potro in the final than Nishikori.

Rafael Nadal vs Juan Martin Del Potro Odds

Here’s the odds on that semi-final.

Player Spread Moneyline
Rafael Nadal -2.5 (-110) -150
Juan Martin Del Potro +2.5 (-105) +135

DelPo and Nadal have played 16 times, and Nadal has won 11 of those meetings. Del Potro’s last victory was at the 2016 Olympic Games, and his most notable victory came in 2009, when he defeated Nadal in the semifinal of the US Open. Their most recent meeting was in the quarterfinal at Wimbledon, where Nadal won in five hard-fought sets.

Nadal and Del Potro are opposites in a lot of ways. Nadal is more mobile and defensive, while Del Potro is slower and prefers short points. That matchup tends to favor the attacking player on harder surfaces, which doesn’t bode well for Del Potro. If that advantage couldn’t get him a win at Wimbledon, perhaps the fastest courts on tour, what good will it be at the US Open? If it couldn’t help Del Potro in the semi final last year, how can it this year?

This year has been perhaps the sweatiest US Open on record, and prior matches have been exhausting to even watch. That should favor Del Potro.

Another key factor of this match could be the heat. This year has been perhaps the sweatiest US Open on record, and prior matches have been exhausting to even watch. That should favor Del Potro, whose game demands less endurance than Nadals and is generally less taxing. Think of it this way: Del Potro is going to bang groundstroke after groundstroke and Nadal is going to leap about retrieving all of them. Heat affects one side of that equation more than the other.

Novak Djokovic vs Kei Nishikori Odds

Player Spread Moneyline
Novak Djokovic -6.5 (-115) -500
Kei Nishikori +6.5 (EVEN) +425

Kei Nishikori’s record against Novak Djokovic is, like most players, not great. In 16 meetings, Nishikori has won just twice, and not since 2014. That win was huge for Nishikori’s career, and propelled him all the way to a loss in straight sets to Marin Cilic.

Djokovic and Nishikori are similar in a lot of ways, and not just stylistically. They both play a primarily defensive game that takes advantage of their movement skills and infallibility on groundstrokes. Both could be described as experts in craven retrieval and watching them play leaves the viewer wondering why tennis courts aren’t made bigger or faster or something.

But both are also on the way back from career low slumps: Nishikori missed two Slams with a  wrist injury and took a while getting back on form, and Novak Djokovic is emerging from the worst and least-explained stretch of poor form of his entire career. Djokovic has obviously been more successful, his rehab to this point has included “winning Wimbledon,” but it’s safe to say that both are still finding their feet at this level.

Djokovic will always be the favorite, for the same reasons that Federer is always the favorite against Grigor Dimitrov. It’s hard to bet on a player over the guy he built his career emulating.

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