Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez will be facing off for the second time in the final of the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships.
Lopez comes into the final unseeded and Nishikori enters the week's crowning match as the tournament's number five seed.
The winner will take claim to 500 ranking points and the top prize of $291,800.
Head to Head: Lopez leads 1-0
Last Meeting: 2011 Barcelona Round of 16- Lopez d. Nishikori 6-4 7-6(5)
Career Titles: Lopez- 2; Nishikori- 2
Odds: Nishikori -350; Lopez +250 (Nishikori solid favorite)
Forehand: Slight Advantage Nishikori
Nishikori and Lopez have compact, fluid, and circular forehand motions. Both men have very few working parts associated with their forehands and both accelerate through contact. From a non-stressed position, Lopez is able to drive rapidly through his forehand obtaining tons of spin and power. Nishikori is very similar in this respect though he does not produce as much pace as Lopez. While both are able to dictate with their forehands, Nishikori has a distinct advantage when put in a stressed position. Lopez's forehand has the potential to breakdown when he is pushed out wide and on the run off the forehand side. Nishikori is much more capable of defending his forehand when spread out towards the alleys and on the run than the Spaniard is.
Backhand: Major Advantage Nishikori
Nishikori's backhand is an extremely solid and reliable shot. Not much can go wrong with it and Nishikori has the ability to take it cross court and down the line with equal guile and precision. Lopez on the other hand has a below average backhand. Feli is hard pressed to drive up or flatten the ball and primarily relies on the slice backhand. While his slice backhand is a fairly steady shot, his body weight often moves backwards which puts him into defensive positions and provides his opponents with a high quantity of short balls.
Feliciano Lopez has an absolute beauty of a serve. Lopez has a range of motion that is continuous as he accelerates his racket up and through the contact, his racket arm is extremely loose and live, and he has a deep knee bend that propels him up to the contact . Lopez's serve is further strengthened by his body weight moving forward into the court. Nishikori has a simple and effective motion but does not nearly generate the amount of pace that the Lopez is able to off the serve.
Return of Serve: Major Advantage Nishikori
Lopez really doesn't have much of a return game. He is often forced to block or chip returns back into play and is particularly susceptible to being hurt off kick serves to his backhand side. Nishikori, on the other hand, is a brilliant returner. The Japanese number one has superb reactionary prowess, moves forward to take on the return early, and as any great returner will do, shortens up the back swing to compensate for the decreased amount of time he has to hit the shot.
As a result of his lackluster groundstrokes, Feliciano Lopez often finds himself chipping and charging in addition to serving and volleying. Luckily, he backs his booming serve up with crisp, well directed volleys. He's made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and the U.S. in doubles so its safe to say he knows his way around the end. Nishikori is an intelligent player and a proficient point constructor so when he sees his opportunity, he will not shy away from closing the net. His volleys are satisfactory but nothing to drop your jaw over.
Using the drop shot against Nishikori is not the wisest decision as Nishikori is one of the fastest players on tour and can be nothing short of omnipresent on a tennis court. Nishikori's wheels allow him to get to and force his opponents to play that one extra shot. Lopez is a big guy, so naturally his movement isn't going to be the best, but this week in Memphis I have been very impressed by the Spaniard in this facet of the game. Still, there is little comparison between the two as far as movement goes.
Nishikori is the higher ranked player and has yet to lose a set this week but Lopez has beaten Nishikori in their lone meeting and should feel that an indoor hard court provides him the best possible surface (excluding grass) to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Nishikori will be able to neutralize the Lopez serve, win a majority of the baseline points and take out Feli in two tight sets.