LONDON – A great season for Kei Nishikori came to a disappointing finish on Saturday, when he was knocked out of the ATP World Tour Finals by world No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
Nishikori, ranked fifth in the world, lost their semifinal match 6-1, 6-1 in 1 hour, 6 minutes. Djokovic will take on top-ranked Briton Andy Murray in Sunday’s final after Murray scraped past Canada’s Milos Raonic 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (11-9).
“Today I think Novak played pretty awesome,” said Nishikori who played a three-set match late on Friday night. “But I wasn’t ready to play against Novak, physically. I tried to play good tennis, but I couldn’t today. I did play well at times, but he was too strong.
“It was one of the best years for me. This is not the finish that I wanted, but still I think it was a good year.”
It was Nishikori’s first appearance in the semifinals of the event that pits the season’s top eight players against each other, and he looked out of sorts from the start, repeatedly missing shots and failing to regroup in the second set.
“I started with a great pace, great concentration, dictating the play, mixing up the pace,” Djokovic said. “Everything was going well. I must be very pleased. I enjoyed myself. On the other hand, you know, Kei was not obviously close to his best. The fact that he played late last night, it’s been a long year for him, long tournament, so he was probably a little bit tired.”
This year, Nishikori reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and played his second career U.S. Open semifinal after bouncing back from an injury suffered in the grass-court season.
Djokovic proved to be Nishikori’s nemesis this year. The Serb knocked Nishikori out of the Australian Open, two masters semifinals and two masters finals.
“There are positives I can take away from this and I will now focus on next year,” Nishikori said.
Murray spent three hours 38 minutes — a tournament record — quelling the ferocious firepower of Raonic in a fever-pitch atmosphere at the O2 Arena.
The Scot, aiming to win a maiden tour finals crown and clinch the year-end world No. 1 ranking for the first time, had barely finished his post-match news conference before Djokovic completed his rout of Nishikori.
“It was pretty dramatic,” said Murray. “It wasn’t just physically hard, it was mentally a tough match. It was pretty stressful.”
Murray, who plunged into an ice bath after surviving his gruelling battle, including saving a match point, also spent three hours 20 minutes beating Nishikori on Wednesday.
Only he knows what is left in the tank for Sunday but he is protecting a three-month unbeaten run, a streak that helped eclipse Djokovic at the top of the rankings and now stands at a career-best 23 wins, with fanatical zeal.
Djokovic will be the fresher man and, after a relatively lean second half of the year, would love to snatch back top-dog status with a fifth consecutive title in Murray’s backyard.
For organizers of the flagship event it is the dream scenario. It is the first time the final match of the season will decide who is ranked No. 1.
“This has never happened,” said Djokovic, who has beaten Murray in five of their seven grand slam finals including in Australia and France this year.
“I’m privileged to be part of history. This is one of the biggest matches we will ever play against each other.”
Whatever lies in store it will struggle to surpass the adrenaline-fueled drama provided by Murray and Raonic.
The Scot was outplayed at times by the powerful 25-year-old Canadian who, apart from a two-game dip that cost him control of the match in the second set, was relentless.