Kei Nishikori Still Leader of the Pack
By James Henry
(August 13, 2019) CINCINNATI — When Kei Nishikori made his ATP Tour debut in April 2007, there were no Japanese players ranked in the Top 200 and only one, Shuzo Matsuoka, had ever won a title.
Today, there are seven tennis players from Japan among the world’s elite, led by Nishikori at a resurgent No. 5. He has won 12 singles titles and was runner-up at the 2014 U.S. Open.
The others are No. 77 Yoshihito Nishioka, No. 117 Taro Daniel, No. 132 Tatsuma Ito, No. 133 Yuichi Sugita, No. 143 Yasutaka Uchiyama and No. 170 Go Soeda.
Nishikori and Nishioka will square off in the second round of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
And teenager Shintaro Mochizuki recently became the first Japanese to win a junior boys’ Grand Slam title, beating Spain’s Carlos Gimeno Valero 6-3, 6-2 at Wimbledon.
“It’s great news that we have a first time winning Grand Slam juniors. My best result was quarterfinal, so much better than me,” said Nishikori, praising the 16-year-old and his aggressive backhand.
“He has great tennis. He doesn’t have big power, but he uses different shots. It’s going to be interesting how he’s going to grow up. I think he still needs some time because he’s not a powerful guy, but he’s a great player.
“Of course, it’s happy news for me. I’m sure he’s going to be good.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Nishikori moved from Japan to the United States at age 14 to train at the renowned IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Now 29, he still works out there.
“I learned many things,” he said. “And now I have a home, tennis courts, great gym, great facility there. I’m happy to stay there.”
In particular, Nishikori said he appreciates the constant opportunity to practice with top tennis players.
Where else, he asked rhetorically, would he have been able to train as a teen with such esteemed pros as Max Mirnyi and Tommy Haas?
“We can have always great practice,” he said. “We could hit with them, like, when I was 14, 15. I think that’s something I can never experience in Japan or Asia.”
Mochizuki now is honing his game at the same academy as Nishikori.
Nishikori said he is “feeling good,” but is not 100%.
“I had some issues on my elbow. It’s been bothering me after Wimbledon. I couldn’t really practice before Montreal, but now it’s getting better,” he said.
Coach Michael Chang, winner of the 1989 French Open, has helped to perfect Nishikori’s skills, as well as make him physically tougher.
“I love to work with him because he has a lot of energy, good influence,” Nishikori said. “For me, he has great eyes. He tells me, like, right away if I am do something wrong.”
“He’s changed many things that’s worked for me, little techniques that I’ve changed, not recently, but when we started. That’s something I never think of,” he said. “For me, he’s helped to get me very strong.”