© Yoshihito Nishioka

Yoshihito Nishioka celebrates his fifth ATP Challenger Tour title and first since returning from ACL surgery.

Challenger Q&A: Nishioka Notches First Title In Comeback

Yoshihito Nishioka talks to ATPWorldTour.com after returning to the winners' circle in Gimcheon, Korea

Just 13 months ago, Yoshihito Nishioka was lying in a hospital bed, beginning his slow and arduous journey back from leg surgery. The 22-year-old Japanese had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), an injury that kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of the 2017 season.

What a difference a year makes. Nishioka returned to the winners' circle on Sunday in Gimcheon, Korea, securing a bittersweet first ATP Challenger Tour crown in his comeback. He would claim seven wins in eight days as a qualifier, capped by a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Vasek Pospisil in the final. 

After battling through a pair of three-set encounters in qualifying, Nishioka would breeze through the main draw without dropping a set, scoring signature wins over Top 100 opponents Jordan Thompson and Pospisil. The 5'7" left-hander, who is now 5-0 in Challenger finals, rises 100 spots in the ATP Rankings to No. 262. 

The former World No. 58 will next compete in nearby Busan, Korea, where he opens against second seed Yuki Bhambri. A rematch against Pospisil looms large in the semi-finals.

Nishioka spoke to ATPWorldTour.com following his victory...

Congrats Yoshi. How does it feel to win the title here in Gimcheon?
Well, this is a very special win for me. It's my first title since my knee injury. It's been almost two or three years since my last one. It's also very special for me to win in Korea because I have a great memory winning the gold medal at the Asian Games in Incheon in 2014.

This is your first title since your injury. How does it feel considering where you were a year ago?
Well, I had a very tough time after coming back from the injury. It's been five months since I returned. I wasn't that bad at first, but not great. So I was thinking whether to play on clay this season or stay on hard courts. I need to get [ATP Rankings] points so I don't have to rely on my protected ranking, so I chose hard courts. I think it was a good choice. I'm up to No. 262 and I have a good mentality and good motivation now.

Did you think success would come so quickly in your return to the tour?
Yes, it has been pretty quick to win a title. The injury was really bad. Not many players have this kind of injury, so they don't know what I went through and coming back from it. I don't have any pain or any problems with my leg now, so I feel very lucky. I'm thankful for having such a good doctor too.

Nishioka In Challenger Finals

Tournament Result Final Opponent
Gimcheon 2018 Won title d. Pospisil
Astana 2016 Won title
d. Istomin
Winnetka 2016 Won title d. Tiafoe
Toyota 2015 Won title d. Kudryavtsev
Shanghai 2014 Won title d. Devvarman

You won here as a qualifier and beat two Top 100 players. What went right for you this week?
I almost lost in the first round of qualifying. I was down 3-5 in the third set. It's a surprise that I won. But little by little I'm figuring out how to win again. My mentality is very good and I kept positive in every match. Sometimes I didn't play great, but I just stayed positive and focused on how to win against my opponent. That worked.

You are now 5-0 in Challenger finals. Do you get extra motivated for matches like these?
Actually, before today's final I was thinking that. That made me think I could win the tournament, so it gave me an advantage. It made me more confident.

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Your movement was critical to winning this week. Talk about your game and how it has developed.  
As you know, I'm very small for this sport. I'm the same height as Diego Schwartzman. There aren't many players like me. But I'm using my strengths and I'm figuring out how to win against bigger players like today. I don't have a big forehand, but I'm using my technique and quickness to figure out how to win. I have to keep doing this. That's what makes me a tough player.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your comeback?
I think it's more about how I keep my body in shape. I am working with a fitness trainer and also a nutritionist to decide what I have to eat and put in my body. That's changing little by little. Now, I'm looking at how much I sweat and how much I'm drinking during practice. That's something different for me, to look at my body that way. 

Have you been inspired by Kei Nishikori's comeback from injury? Did he give you any advice?
He did. We were training in the same place - the IMG Academy in the United States - last year. A few times he gave me advice with his past injuries. He told me that he had a bad injury when he was the same age as me. Was teaching me many things, like to keep positive and not to hurry up and take my time. It gave me hope.

Did you have any goals to start the year? How have they changed?
When I came back, I was thinking that I could pass the Top 100 again and play at a high level. At the beginning of the year, I was thinking too much like that. It wasn't easy to come back, but now I am focusing on one tournament at a time. If I'm not doing great, that's fine. I can take my time and get better slowly. I believe that I can come back to the level I was before the injury.

ATP Challenger Tour 

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