Miami QF previews and predictions: Nadal vs. Sock, Nishikori vs. Fognini

Jack Sock has continued his stellar start to 2017 with a quarterfinal trip in Miami, but now it is Rafael Nadal who stands in his way on Wednesday. Kei Nishikori and Fabio Fognini are also aiming for a place in the semis.

(5) Rafael Nadal vs. (13) Jack Sock

Nadal and Sock will be going head-to-head for the third time in their careers when they clash in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open on Wednesday night. Both of their previous encounters have gone Nadal’s way–6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 at the 2015 French Open and 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 a few months later on the hard courts of Beijing. The sixth-ranked Spaniard is still flying high two years later, and his 2017 campaign would be even better if not for losses to Roger Federer in Melbourne and Indian Wells. Nadal, who is through to the last eight thanks to defeats of Dudi Sela, Philipp Kohlschreiber, and Nicolas Mahut, is 17-4 and has lost to the eventual champion in three of four tournaments.

As good as Nadal’s record is this year, Sock’s is superior. The red-hot American is 18-3 with titles in Auckland and Delray Beach, a big reason why he registers at a career-high 17th in the rankings and will likely climb to No. 15 even if he loses on Wednesday. Sock has advanced so far this fortnight by taking out Yoshihito Nishioka (via retirement), Jiri Vesely, and Jared Donaldson. It must be said that the No. 13 seed has been fortunate in Miami, as Nishioka was up  a break when he sustained a knee injury and Milos Raonic gave Donaldson a third-round walkover due to a hamstring issue. This is where Sock’s favorable draw ends, but it has never been easy for Nadal in this matchup and this story will likely be a similar one.

Pick: Nadal in 2 with at least one tiebreaker

Fabio Fognini vs. (2) Kei Nishikori

As is often the case with Nishikori, the outcome of this one will likely be dictated by his health–or lack thereof. The world No. 4 from Japan fought past Federico Delbonis on Tuesday, recovering from a break down in the third set to prevail 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. However, Nishikori received treatment for an apparent knee issue on multiple occasions and he admitted afterward that it was a “tough condition.”

Up next for the second seed on Wednesday is a third career showdown against Fognini, who is 0-2 in the head-to-head series. Nishikori got the job done 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4 at the 2011 Australian Open and 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 on the clay courts of Madrid last spring. Fognini has been his typically mercurial self in 2017, covering all spectrums in terms of his form. The 40th-ranked Italian won only two matches in his first four tournaments but clinched a Davis Cup victory for Italy (in five sets over Argentina’s Guido Pella), upset Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Indian Wells Masters, and has been no-nonsense in Miami with defeats of Ryan Harrison, Joao Sousa, Jeremy Chardy, and Donald Young. Fognini looks strong enough both physically and mentally right now to capitalize if Nishikori is less than 100 percent.

Pick: Fognini in 3

47 Comments on Miami QF previews and predictions: Nadal vs. Sock, Nishikori vs. Fognini

  1. That’s a psychological win by rafa…sock maybe a bit down atm…rafa needs to pressed harder at this point..

  2. Urgh!!Rafa should make a lob instead of DTL shot when he’s so far behind the baseline and sock already waiting at the net…

  3. And my wondering as to what all the hype over Jack Sock is about continues… He may capable of occasionally taking out a Raonic or a Nishikori, but there’s a whole club of those guys!

  4. Rafa certainly not as sharp as he was during his heydays. He has to fight tooth and nail often these days, like most champions do after their heydays.

    • Yeah thinking the exact same thing lucky.

      There’s sporadic moments but he doesn’t dominate and push opponents around like he used to.

  5. Jack Sock is certainly getting better and he’s only 24. He may not be a Delpo, but who knows when he gets older he may be half a Stan and wins something big?

    He has the serve, the power and the topspin. He needs better movement and experiences in big matches.

  6. Sock start to blasted winners freely now knowing he has nothing to lose and this attitude is veryyyy dangerous from a wounded man…rafa must hold his serve and nerves now..

  7. Save for a potential tough match with Federer, Rafa’s draw is just begging him to take this title… Even if he were to meet Kyrgios or Zverev, I just don’t see them not caving against Rafa in a final. I also just can’t see Rafa letting such a golden opportunity to get this elusive title slip away… I’m not even confident that Federer would be able to challenge him in Miami like the other times this year. I think the wear might be starting to show on Fed a bit. C’mon Rafa, you’ve got no excuse for not making the final, and then the title is there for the taking!


  9. Yes! Brravo! Thank you Rafa for finishing in straights! Beautifully done!

    FH working very well! Love it!

    Vamos Champ! ❤

  10. Yes! Rafa wins and into the SF, since 2014! So happy for him. Rafa looks very handsome even with lesser hair now.

    I like watching the big four, they just have so many tricks in their bags and pulling them out as and when required. Fed used his quickness to take away opponents’ time; Rafa makes them move and they have to work so hard to keep up with Rafa.

  11. Very disappointing performance from Sock, particularly in the 2nd set after blowing those chances for the double break. There’s something nonchalant about his play; it was certainly very uneven. I’m not sure how much Rafa fans can take away from this performance, to be honest. He kept his UE down, but no one could say he dictated play. I thought he looked better against Mahut. Up next, Fabio is playing very well, and has actually won a few matches against Rafa. I just hope it’s a better match than this one was.

    • How to dictate play against a big hitter and big server? Rafa doesn’t have a big serve like Sock or Fed, so he has to use his guile to win.

      I mean who can dictate play against a Delpo for example? It’s only when Delpo is off his game that others have a chance to dictate.

      • Hmmm. I’m not sure. First, I just don’t think that’s been of true of Nadal in the past -that he mainly had to use guile to win. Yes, Sock hits with a bit more power, both on the serve and groundies. But otherwise their games are pretty similar. For sure, Rafa generally played smart, letting Sock beat himself. Above all, he won the big points: 4/5 break points won; 6/7 saved.

        But that was a really poor performance from Sock, and I’m not sure I saw that Nadal had too much to do with it. Maybe that’s just my bias, but I don’t think so. As others have said, Rafa used to be able to push other players around, but not so much any more, it seems. The first few games of the second set were much more indicative of how Sock has generally played this year. But he wasn’t even able to sustain that level for three whole games. If he had been able to, I think Nadal would have had to play quite a bit better to win.

        • Joe, isn’t this obvious, that Rafa is not as good as before (i.e. during his peak)? If it’s a peak Rafa, he would have dispatched this Sock earlier with even more lopsided score line.

          You’re wrong to say that Sock plays a similar game as Rafa! I mean what is similar about their game? Just because Sock hits a topspin FH?? Sock is basically a big serve and big FH hard hitter, he doesn’t have a tactical game or a tactical brain of Rafa’s. Sock can S&V a bit as he’s a good doubles player, but he lacks the finesse and good soft hands that Rafa has.

    • Rafa played smart match! He actually took those chances away from Sock! You see Rafa seems to have this pattern that when he noticed his opponent making a few more UEs he would get defensive waiting for those errors to come. However, more than often he gets punished for that. I thought he played tactically intelligent match and clearly outplayed Sock. He fought in key moments and was agressive when needed, just enough for the comfortable win.
      I do agree though that Fog will be tough to deal with! But for now I will enjoy this win and will start worrying about it tomorrow!

    • And you miss the gist of Rafa’s game. As a Rafa fan, I also hope that he can serve better, dictates play right away and goes on the attack all the time. However, Rafa is not such kind of player.

      He’s a tactical player, and has to think his way out of troubles; he’s not one who serves big, hits hard, he doesn’t enjoy playing like that. He prefers rallying and point constructions to win his points and his matches.

      • You may be right that I miss the gist of Rafa’s game. I have never denied that he is a very smart, tactical player. Maybe Nats is right that he was deliberately playing more defensively, seeing that Sock was making a lot of errors. If so, that was indeed very smart play.

  12. Kevin,

    You are making me nervous. I am taking it one match at a time. Right now I am really happy that Rafa is in the semifinals!

  13. So Rafa moves past Raonic and Kei with this win; he will be either no. 4 or no. 5 in the rankings depending on how he and Fed performs here.

    • I thought Fed was going to be no. 4 after Miami. On the tennis channel the other day they showed a graphic of the race for no. 4. Both Fed and Rafa are not defending any points in Miami.

      It’s good to know that Rafa can move up. He has a chance to get a good result here right before the clay season.

      • If Fed wins the title then he’ll be no.4 and Rafa no.5. Rafa has to outdo Fed here in order to become no.4.

  14. Lets not forget Rafa is defending 1500 points at MC & Barcelona..that is a lot..Fed has 0 points to defend virtually all the way till RG..

    Not so sure Rafa will stay at 4 till RG unless he wins atleast 2 clay masters.

    • True but #GOAT2.0 will likely only play one lead up clay event (1000 pt. potential) to Rafa’s four lead ups (3500 pt potential).

  15. Just watched the replay in order to savour anew this version of Rafa. SO many positives, the most important being the way he handled himself when he was being pushed by Sock. And served out the match with little sign of the nerves that have plagued him in recent years. Kholbi did us a favour when he humiliated Rafa in the first set of their match. That served as a salutary a wake up call for him.

    Onwards and upwards Rafa!

    • As far as tactics used in this match and how Rafa won, I think the key moment was when Rafa was fighting to keep from being broken again by Sock. That game was quite the battle and Rafa got a little bit of luck in the bargain. But seeing Rafa fight to hold his serve was so important. Rafa knew that if he went down two breaks that would cost him the second set. He would have let Sock back in the match. Sock started playing better at that point in the match. Rafa had the awareness of what was at stake. It shows one more time what it means to hold serve.

      Rafa took that second set away from Sock. It’s a satisfying win for Rafa. It helped that he served really well.

      I don’t think Rafa and Sock are similar except for their topspin. Sock has the big serve and forehand. He bludgeons the ball. It’s a power game. But Rafa has more finesse. He is a strategist and tactician and loves to construct points to outwit his opponents. He has that forehand and his own power, but he does use his smarts.

      • Well said, NNY. I fully agree.

        Rafa certainly doesn’t bludgeon the ball those hard hitters do (which Sock is one). I really see no similarities in Rafa’s and Sock’s game.

      • agreed.

        On another side,sock can generate as much topspin as Rafa can but haven’t seen him generate the side-spin Rafa can! not even close! That topspin, side-spin combo makes Nadal’s forehand something else esp when he is able to get good penetration as well.

        • VR, I don’t know whether you have noticed one thing about Fed; Fed was slow in covering his FH corner. I saw it a few times, esp in that Agut match, when his opponents attacked his FH, he had the tendency to miss the shot, or hit it into the net.

          I feel Fed doesn’t have the speed anymore to cover his FH when he camps at his BH so often now. In order for him to hit his BH well, he steps inside the court to take the ball early, that I feel affected the way he covers his FH when it’s under attack.

          I do feel opponents should attack Fed’s FH more now, make him move from side to side and he will miss some of his shots.

          • Absolutely! Been saying this for a while and was actually saying this to my younger brother yesterday. The reason Bautista Agut was winning so many baseline rallies was not because of Fed having an off day, it had a lot to do with Agut hitting backhands DTL! They were working really well for him. What was disappointing from Delpo was that he didn’t even hit a single backhand DTL to be honest.

            You are right about Fed’s movement to the forehand side. We know it has reduced but players’ obsession with attacking his backhand prevents them from exploiting that.

            There is always a risk of hitting DTL backhands (or DTL forehands for lefties) against Fed if the shots are not of good quality as Fed is really good at attacking those with his forehand. The new racket is giving him easier power on his running CC forehands IF he gets in a good enough position.

            Players MUST spread the court against Fed! How about using wide kick serves on the ad court to draw fed off the court a bit and then attacking his forehand corner rather than just going for quick serves to his backhand?

            Djokovic was using his backhand DTL exceptionally well against Fed in 2015 and spreading the court was key for him back then as well

          • the point about Fed stepping in to crush backhands also makes his forehand side a bit more vulnerable. You are right there, luckystar.

            It’s important for players to try to go for his forehand side more when Fed is stepping in that much. Fed’s aim is to keep opponent rushed and force them to hit instinctive shots (which are often CC or down the middle).

            The field needs to shake up the patterns a bit and it should start right from the serve.

            • Fed playing running open-stance backhands more and more now. He sometimes slides into his forehands even on hard courts now. This is both a result of him slowing down a bit (reflecting inability to play running forehands with a closed stance) and a response against his reduced speed to increase his reach.

          • Yea but VR, is there any evidence to suggest that it really is more than just an off day, that all this playing over IW and Miami is catching up to him?

            Hope you’re right but I’m not so sure.

          • I said Rafa got lucky when he held to avoid the double break. But that’s the way it goes.

            Sock had his chances, but didn’t get it done. Rafa also did well to hold his serve later in the second set when he went down 0-30 on his serve. So Rafa did well to hold his serve again at that point in the match. And that had nothing to do with luck.

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