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Kei Nishikori: Japan’s Rising Son


 

Originally published on: 26/06/12 00:00

World No.20 Kei Nishikori will be aiming for his first Wimbledon victory when he takes to court against Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round today. The Japanese star hasn’t played on the tour since he picked up an abdominal injury in Barcelona but the 22-year-old has a track record of successfully returning from injury.

The potential was always there, but like so many young players who shine on the junior circuit, success on the professional tour perhaps took a little longer than expected. After moving from his native Japan to set up shop at the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida aged 14, even homesickness and a difficulty getting to grips with the English language couldn't stop Kei Nishikori’s progress on court, however.

He won the Roland Garros boys’ doubles title in 2006 and reached No.7 in the ITF junior world rankings. Two years later, Nishikori was named the 2008 ATP Newcomer of the Year, the same season he beat James Blake as a quali«Îer to win his «Îrst ATP title in Delray Beach. The signs were good, but injury problems were just around the corner.

After finishing 2008 ranked No.63, two years later he had dropped off the ATP list altogether after nearly eight months on the sidelines following elbow surgery in August 2009. He picked himself up during 2010, working his way back up the rankings by playing Challengers, to end that season just inside the top 100 before surging to new heights last year.

His first semi-final at an ATP Masters event came in Shanghai last October where he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga along the way, before sensationally toppling world No.1 Novak Djokovic in the semi-«Înals in Basel – dishing out a bagel in the deciding set – where he finished second-best to Roger Federer in the final.

Those results meant a place in the top 25 at the end of 2011, a ranking he has built on to climb to a personal best of No.16, largely thanks to a first Grand Slam quarter-final at Melbourne Park in January where once again he got the better of Tsonga.

“My win over Djokovic in the semis [in Basel 2011 is my best win],” the 22-year-old told tennishead. “I played some of my best tennis and beating Novak was very special for me. He was winning everything so it was one of my best matches.”

After battling back from elbow surgery, Nishikori believes it’s his health that is the key to further success. “After that I take better care of my body. I like tennis more now – it’s fun to play without injury. I think I need more muscles – to get a bigger body. At the same time I need no injuries. In a few years I can get the perfect body!”

Greater mental strength and self-belief when up against the top four are another two short-term goals for the right-hander and if he had a magic wand there’s one shot he’d love to add to his game. “Isner’s serve! I’m not a tall guy so that’s my dream!”

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