Thursday September 6, 2012
Dashing Nishikori inspired to give better show at Malaysian Open
PETALING JAYA: Kei Nishikori had a rough start to his tennis career, having to leave home at 14 to train at the famed IMG Bollettieri Academy in Florida, USA, under the guidance of Nick Bollettieri and Dante Bottini.
To make matters worse, Nishikori, the son of Kiyoshi and Eri, could not speak a single word of English when he first arrived in the US and struggled just to adapt to his new surroundings.
But his persistence and perseverance soon paid dividends, with Nishikori qualifying for and winning an ITF Futures event in Mazatlan, Mexico, in 2006, as an unranked player. It was his first ever singles title.
Nishikori, now 22, had to wait until 2008 before earning his first breakthrough on the ATP Tour, gaining entrance into the Delray Beach Championship in February that year. Ranked No. 244 in the world, he defeated several higher ranked players, including Florian Mayer, Sam Querrey and top seed James Blake, to become the first Japanese man in nearly 16 years to win an ATP title.
Although that is his only ATP title to date, Nishikori’s star continued to rise, as did his rankings. And last October, he rose to world No. 30 – becoming the highest ranked Japanese man since Shuzo Matsuoka, who reached No. 46 in 1992. This year, Nishikori has already achieved a personal best by reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the first time, beating world No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France along the way.
Nishikori is currently the world No. 18, having made the quarter-finals in the London Olympics and the third round of the US Open last week.
The dashing youngster, well-known for his speed and endurance on court, will be competing in the Malaysian Open ATP 250 at the Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil from Sept 22-30.
It will be his third straight year competing in Malaysia and the crowd favourite took some time out from his hectic schedule to tell us a little – via e-mail – about his aspirations and hopes about competing here.
Starsport: Nishikori, you’ve been a rising Asian sensation in the world of tennis and you’re still only 22. Can you describe your journey so far?
Nishikori: It has been a very interesting journey so far. I moved to Bollettieri’s when I was just 14 and that was a big sacrifice. I didn’t know anyone there and I really had to learn to grow up in a new culture. In a way, I learned a lot from those days and it has helped me in my travels around the world.
Starsport: Training in the US has certainly improved your game. What else have you learned and improved on? Will fans be seeing a new style from you?
Nishikori: I am not super tall so my game is obviously based on speed and my big forehand. I don’t suppose my style will change but I will gain more experience to become more all-rounded. My serve and net game though, has certainly improved a lot.
Starsport: You’re currently the highest ranked Asian men’s tennis player. Does that put more pressure on you and can you break into the top 10?
Nishikori: There is a lot of attention back in Japan but I don’t really feel the pressure because I just focus on my tennis and continuously seek to improve myself. This is the first year I’ve broken into the top 20, so there’s still a long road ahead.
Starsport: Your best Grand Slam result was making the quarter-finals of the Australian Open this year. Does it represent a step forward in your career?
Nishikori: It was definitely the biggest moment of my career and I think I was the youngest quarter-finalist there so it means that I am on the right track. Having said that, you can’t be satisfied with what you have done and I always want more. I will also try to win a title as I’ve not won any since 2008.
Starsport: In Malaysia, the fans adore you and treat as a local player. How does that make you feel?
Nishikori: It is a very nice feeling indeed because we travel so much and to come to a place where the fans make you feel at home is very nice and makes you want to play better. I’m definitely looking forward to the Malaysian Open because it helped me when I was still low in the rankings and it’s really nice to be back.
Starsport: Besides tennis, what other sports do you follow?
Nishikori: I’m a huge football fan and I follow the Japanese national team a lot.
Starsport: So is it Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Nishikori: Lionel Messi.
Starsport: What about food? Will you like to try some spicy Malaysian food?
Nishikori: I like a variety of food but my favourite is obviously sushi. But I’m also looking forward to tasting the local cuisines.