Zverev v Nishikori: Things we learned

 - Chris Oddo

Alexander Zverev was at his ornery best on Sunday night in Paris as he powered past Kei Nishikori to reach the last eight.

Alexander Zverev Roland Garros 2021©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Alexander Zverev is in fighting form. The No.6 seed brushed aside Kei Nishikori for the third time in a little over a month with an eye-catching 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 triumph that seals his status as a contender to reach this year's final in Paris.

Here's what we learned from the German's dominant performance on Day 8.

New dynamic for Sascha

Zverev is into his third career Roland-Garros quarter-final, but for the first time he'll be the heavy favourite at this stage of the tournament.

After falling in his last two quarter-finals in Paris, against Dominic Thiem in 2018 and Novak Djokovic in 2019, Zverev will be pleased to find Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina across the net from him in the last eight this year.

Not only does Zverev hold the 2-0 lifetime edge over the Spaniard, he also stands to benefit massively from an edge in experience. Davidovich Fokina, who defeated Federico Delbonis to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final on Sunday, is making just his fifth appearance at a major.

"Of course he's had some fantastic matches, I think today [in the round of 16 against Delbonis] was a fantastic match from his side," Zverev said of the 22-year-old world No.46. "I have to come out here and I have to play my best and give myself the best chance to win."

On the flip side, Zverev has made the quarter-finals, or better, in five of his last eight majors, and he will head into the business end of this tournament in impressive form.

"I have to focus on myself," said Zverev. "I feel like if I play my best tennis I'm difficult to beat."

Zverev has Nishikori's number

Three strikes and you're out. Zverev completed a trio of clay-court victories over Nishikori that started in Madrid, where the German topped the Japanese in straight sets en route to his 15th career title.

In Rome, one week later, the contest was closer, but Zverev still advanced in three sets.

Today in Paris, it was simply no contest. Zverev pushes his career record to 5-1 against Nishikori and records his fourth consecutive victory over the former world No.4.

"He served well, with these conditions, and he was hitting the ball pretty solid," said Nishikori. "I think today he was too good for me."

It wasn't for lack of trying for Nishikori.

Zverev's menacing game was just too hot to handle for much of the contest. The 24-year-old German was on the front foot all evening, playing first-strike tennis whenever he got the opportunity.

Remarkably, he won 60/90 of the points that lasted four strokes or less. Zverev cracked 25 winners, including five aces, and only hit two double-faults.

"Today I knew that I had to take Kei's racquet out of his hands, and be as aggressive as I could be," Zverev said. "At the end of the day I'm happy that I'm through, I'm happy with how I played."

Zverev mastering Paris?

Zverev is a threat at all four Grand Slams but Roland-Garros may be the place that suits his punishing baseline game better than anywhere else.

The numbers are starting to show that. Zverev improves to 17-5 lifetime on the Parisian clay with his win and he has been to the second week or better in each of his last four appearances.

All that's left is for Zverev to continue the trend he has set in the last several seasons. The German improves to 90-36 on clay lifetime and three of his four Masters 1000 titles have come on clay.

Was today's takedown of Nishikori one of his best matches of his career? Zverev wasn't ready to say so, but he was clearly pleased with his scintillating form.

"I don't know because I always rank the biggest matches on the top, finals of tournaments, semi-finals against the big guys like Novak, Roger and Rafa," he said. "Yes, I played incredible, I played a very good match but the tournament is not over - I'm in the quarter-finals so I hopefully have three more matches left and we will see how those go."

Alexander Zverev, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Not Kei's day

Nishikori was bidding for his 100th career Grand Slam victory on Sunday, but he was too slow out of the blocks to contend with the surging Zverev. He fell behind 3-0 in the opening set, at which point John McEnroe, commentating the match for NBC remarked: “Nishikori has not come out of the gates at all. It’s like a heavyweight versus a middleweight.”

The 31-year-old would rally back and make the opening set competitive, but after Zverev converted a late break in the 10th game to seal it, it was all one-way traffic.

Nishikori couldn't manage to stay out of trouble, and when he was under pressure, Zverev had his number all day. The German broke his serve eight times on 11 opportunities, and forced 34 errors to come off Nishikori's racquet. In the end, Nishikori's 16 winners and 36 unforced errors tell the story of his struggles.

Kei Nishikori, Roland Garros 2021, fourth round© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT