Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Kei Nishikori is already the best-ever
tennis player to hail from Japan.
But he wants to be even better than that.
Nishikori, who turned 23 last week, has quietly ascended into the ATP World
Tour's top 20 and has designs on reaching the top 10 this year.
The native of Shimane, Japan, now residing in Bradenton, Fla., reached a trio
of finals over the last two seasons, including his second career title in Tokyo
in his native land in October. That title marked his first one since his
maiden championship in Delray Beach, Fla., in 2008.
Nishikori also enjoyed a career highlight by landing in a final two years ago
in Basel, where there certainly was no shame in losing to the hometown hero --
living legend Roger Federer. His biggest win that week came in the semifinals,
where he shocked a high-flying world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
The 5-foot-10, 150-pound grinder turned pro in 2007, and officially started to
make some waves the following year. But it was in 2011 when he hit top gear.
Two years ago, Nishikori was a solid 36-22 while being coached by both Dante
Bottini and Brad Gilbert, who also mentored current world No. 3 star Andy
Murray and former world No. 1s Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick.
"Special Kei" reached a career-high No. 15 in the world back in October and
headed into 2013 at No. 19. He was a surprise Australian Open quarterfinalist
last year (lost to the U.S. Open and Olympic champion Murray) and reached the
quarters at the London Olympic Games (lost to former U.S. Open titlist and
eventual Olympic bronze medalist Juan Martin del Potro). And by reaching the
quarters in Oz, Nishikori became the first Japanese male in 80
years to reach the Aussie Open's round of eight (but who's counting?).
Nishikori posted a quality 37-18 record in 2012, including a stunning third-
round victory over world No. 5 David Ferrer at the Summer Games; a quarterfinal
win against world No. 6 Tomas Berdych in Tokyo; a fourth-round victory over
world No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Aussie; and a big win over fellow rising
star Milos Raonic in the final in Tokyo, where he became the first Japanese man
to win the Japan Open in the event's 41-year history. His Melbourne victory
over Tsonga was watched by over 55 million people back in Japan.
The ultra-fit Nishikori trains at the famed IMG Academy (Nick Bollettieri
Academy) in Florida, where he's coached by the aforementioned Bottini, and he
is best known on the circuit for his speed and endurance. He boasts solid
groundstrokes with plenty of depth, but, unfortunately for the Japanese
grinder, he lacks that one big weapon, just like a Ferrer. However, the
"offensive baseliner," like Ferrer, also doesn't have any weaknesses.
"If Kei's serve continues to improve, and if he continues to play an attacking
game, he could end up becoming a top-10 player," the legendary coach
Bollettieri said last year. "He is the highest-ranked Japanese in their
history. He's a great player, he has great movement, and he's a shot-maker."
Japan's biggest tennis export was also a solid 8-3 in Grand Slam action last
year, including trips into the third round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, in
addition to that Aussie quarterfinals.
Nishikori is among those teeing it up this week at the ATP's season-opening
event in Brisbane as players get ready for the start of the '13 Aussie Open
on Jan. 14. He's already secured a berth in the quarters at the hardcourt
"I'm struggling a little bit on my return, but it's coming," Nishikori said.
"I hope I can be top 10 at the end of this year. That is my goal. It's going
to be tough because I had so many injuries these past couple of years, but if
I can be healthy all year, I think it is possible to get into quarterfinals and
semifinals now at Grand Slams."
Nishikori may not have enough "game" to land in the Grand Slam winners'
circle, but he's certainly has enough of it to continue his recent surge and
acquire a coveted single-digit ranking.
The Sports Network