Nishikori Kei Finishes Season Ranked FifthCulture
Japanese tennis star Nishikori Kei finished this season ranked fifth in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals. After his appearance in the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, held in London from November 9 to 16, he returned to Tokyo, where he appeared before the press on November 18 at the Nippon Press Center.
“This year I leaped ahead more than ever before,” remarked Nishikori. “It was a really fulfilling year for me.” Looking ahead to future seasons, he made some resolutions: “I’ll be aiming for a Grand Slam championship. Within the next five years, I aim to be number one in the world.”
Some messages he had to deliver to the press, and to his fans around Japan, are as follows.
QUESTION What sort of a year was this for you?
NISHIKORI KEI At the end of last year I was ranked seventeenth in the world; now I’ve made it up to fifth. My goal for the season was to break into the top ten, so I’m happy to have achieved that so soundly. In the second half of the year in particular, I had great results in my play and gained a lot of confidence.
QUESTION What changed the most for you this season?
NISHIKORI More than anything, I’d say it was Michael Chang becoming my coach and helping me to improve. My tennis became more aggressive than I’d believed possible. He really made me aware of the need to move up on the court, and my game got a lot stronger as a result.
QUESTION What was the turning point in reworking your game this year?
NISHIKORI That would be the match against top-ranked Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open in January. I ended up losing in straight sets [7–6 (3), 7–5, 7–6 (3)] but I maintained my focus right up until the end. I managed to really press Nadal a number of times in that match, which I found really satisfying. I knew then that my tennis was changing. I found reason to be confident even in that defeat. I’d say that match was the turning point for me and my game.
QUESTION What was your most memorable match, or tournament, this year?
NISHIKORI The tournament has got to be when I made it to the finals of the US Open. That was one of my goals for the season. My best match was the semifinal of that tournament, when I beat Novak Djokovic.
QUESTION When you made it to the US Open quarterfinals, you memorably stated that “There’s nobody I can’t beat.” What inspired you to say that?
NISHIKORI I wasn’t thinking about it that deeply when I said it, but the reaction was big enough to startle me. In the past, I’d gone into matches where I had already lost before the play even began. You can’t make it to the top without mental toughness. This was a phrase to force myself to step up. Before the Djokovic match, my coach told me five times: “Believe in yourself. You can absolutely win this.” That helped me get out on the court with real conviction.
QUESTION What do you think about the physical difference between you and your Western opponents?
NISHIKORI I do look almost like a child when I stand alongside those players, but I’ve never regretted being shorter than them. My play style depends a lot on my speed and technique, and those can make up for the power gap. There’s no need to see being shorter as some kind of weak point that Japanese players have to overcome on the global stage.
QUESTION How do you view the Asian tennis situation today?
NISHIKORI The tour basically revolves around Europe, and Asia is a long way away. The biggest issue for Asian hopefuls to overcome is the lack of accomplished rivals nearby. Japan has great facilities and instructors, so I hope that as Japanese tennis gets stronger it will lift all of Asia along with it. To help this happen, first of all, it’s my job to do the best that I can.
(Originally written in Japanese on November 19, 2014. Banner photo: Coach Michael Chang [right] offers advice during the Australian Open in January 2014. © Jiji.)