Health In Hand, Nishikori’s Sights Set On Big Titles
Kei Nishikori began 2018 in a far different state than that in which he finished the season. It’s easy to forget that the Japanese star missed the Australian Open as he continued his recovery from a wrist injury that had kept him out since the 2017 Coupe Rogers. Nishikori began his comeback on the ATP Challenger Tour in late January, even losing his first match against the World No. 238.
But Nishikori would find some of his best tennis, and more importantly, good health, as the year went on. He qualified for the prestigious Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth time, beating Roger Federer in round robin play at the season finale.
“It took a little while to get my tennis back… Also, my wrist was hurting at the same time. It took a little while to get healed 100 per cent,” said Nishikori, who begins the new year at the Brisbane International. “At that time I couldn’t really imagine I’d be in the Top 10 at the end of the year. But I was very happy to finish by playing in London last year.”
While Nishikori showed signs of his best tennis early in his comeback — reaching the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and his first quarter-final at Wimbledon — he was still well out of reach of a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals when the US Open rolled around.
“Obviously it was a progression,” said one of Nishikori’s two coaches, Dante Bottini.
But Nishikori clicked into gear, digging deep to find the consistency he was seeking, making the quarter-finals or better in his final six tournaments of the year ahead of the Nitto ATP Finals, highlighted by a run to the last four in Flushing Meadows.
During the off-season, it’s been back to work for Nishikori at his second home: the IMG Academy in Florida, where he moved as a teenager. The World No. 9 is leaving no stone left unturned as he pushes to maintain his momentum.
It’s the same hard-working attitude Nishikori has had since he first decided he wanted to become a professional tennis player at 12 years old. He could have stayed in Japan, but Nishikori chose to move to the IMG Academy to completely focus on his tennis.
“At an early age, you saw the trademarks of a champion,” said Nishikori’s childhood coach Paul Forsyth. “From 13 to where he is right now, you can tell the boy was going places.”
And Nishikori, who turned 29 on Saturday, certainly has gone far in the sport. That’s why a swarm of Japanese media visited with Nishikori for a media day in Florida in the middle of December, chronicling the star’s every move in his preparation for the upcoming season.
“He’s like Michael Jordan here, like Diego Maradona in Argentina,” Bottini said of his charge’s star-status in Japan.
“I heard that there is an airplane with his picture. I’ve heard that before, but it’s amazing. He’s an idol in Japan,” Forsyth said.
And while Nishikori showed why he receives that attention with his impressive 2018 comeback, he is not ready to slow down his upwards trajectory. He wants to continue rising, and push the bar even higher.
“I hope I can come back to the Top 5 again and win the big tournaments.”