Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic were two freaks of nature. Between 2012- 2020, Kei Nishikori did not start a season outside 20 in the world. The same can be said about Milos Raonic, who also started each year from 2012- 2020 inside the top 20 of the world rankings. However, a key difference was that Raonic had not started a season in the top 10 since the beginning of 2017. Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori had an incredible top 10 record over this period, starting every year from 2014-2019 inside the world’s top 10.
Nevertheless, Raonic was always a player who you could expect to make a deep run at a Masters or grand slam. Milos made consecutive Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2017 and 2018, and also made the quarter finals of the Australian Open 3 out of 4 years between 2017 to 2020. In early 2021, Raonic had a fantastic Australian Open campaign, making the last 16 of the grand slam down under. In his path however was Novak Djokovic, who was the eventual champion in Melbourne. In a valiant affair, Raonic managed to take the second set off Djokovic. but the talented Canadian fell short and could not progress to his 4th Australian Open quarter-final in 5 years.
However, it is at Masters 1000 level which Raonic truly shined. In 2018 and 2019, Raonic managed to make consecutive semi-finals at Indian Wells, as well as one quarter-final each at Cincinnati and Miami. What is even more baffling is that Raonic actually had fantastic results at the start of decade, post-covid. In 2020, Milos Raonic made the semi-final of the Paris Masters and the final of the Cincinnati Masters.
Moreover, what many fans and pundits fail to remember is just how dominant Milos Raonic could be at Masters 1000 level. In 2014 alone, Milos Raonic made 3 straight quarter-finals at Masters 1000 level (Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo). He followed this up with a quarter-final at the Canadian Open, as well as semi-finals in Rome and Cincinnati. He then ended that season making the final of the Paris Masters. In 2016, Raonic made the final of Indian Wells, followed by three consecutive quarter-finals in Miami, Monte Carlo and Madrid. In a similar fashion, he also later made the quarter-final of the Canadian Open and reached the semi-finals of Cincinatti and Paris.
Kei Nishikori, likewise, was a wrecking ball at the top of the sport for such a period of time. Nishikori was simply Mr Consistent when he was on. With a run at majors unlike a lot of what we saw for a long while with the younger players (although not the case now), Kei Nishikori was one of those players who you’d see- without fail, in the quarter-finals of majors
However, ever since coronavirus hit, injury and the covid shutdown in 2020 has meant Kei has not been able to reach the lofty heights we all took for granted during his best years. He is part of a crop of players- including Marin Cilic, who dominated slams but fell short to “the big 4” in slam quarterfinals time and time again.
However, in terms of Nishikori, what he achieved can only be described as unbelievable. In 2018, Kei started the season injured, and in the beginning third of the year was playing Challengers. However, by year’s end, he had qualified for the ATP finals. A result like this was the product of pure grit, determination and will. What happened next has rarely happened since with next-gen: Nishikori made 5 straight major quarter-finals:
- Quarter-final of Wimbledon (2018)
- Quarter-final of the US Open (2018)
- Quarter-final of the Australian Open (2019)
- Quarter-final of the French Open (2019)
- Quarter-final of Wimbledon (2019).
It was an extraordinary stretch of play, and you will be hard pressed to find any next-gen player who has made 5 straight major quarterfinals. All in all, do you think we will see Nishikori back in the top 10? Can you see Raonic making quarter-finals of grand slams again?