Player Features

What Has Surprised Nishikori About His Comeback

The Japanese star is competing this week in his second tournament in 20 months
July 06, 2023
Kei Nishikori in action at the Bloomfield Hills Challenger.
Daniel Westhoff
Kei Nishikori in action at the Bloomfield Hills Challenger. By ATP Staff

Despite a 20-month absence from competition, Kei Nishikori has not missed a beat in his first six matches on the ATP Challenger Tour. Part of the reason why is that the Japanese star stayed connected to the sport.

“I was watching a lot of tennis actually. I thought that was a good idea to be mentally ready to play again,” Nishikori told “Also just to remind me how the top players are playing. And I can imagine playing tennis in the head.

“Twenty months was not a short time. I was just trying to be mentally fresh, not stressing too much every day.”

The 33-year-old, who this week is competing in the Cranbrook Tennis Classic in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, first returned to action last month at the Palmas del Mar Challenger in Puerto Rico, where he dropped just one set en route to the title.

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Nishikori quickly found a high level to be crowned champion in Palmas del Mar, where he was playing his first tournament since the 2021 BNP Paribas Open. Throughout the Challenger 75 event, the former World No. 4 produced vintage down-the-line winners and showed deft feel from all corners of the court. By the end of the week, Nishikori had his hands around the trophy.

“That was surprising a lot. I was just expecting to just play one match and just kind of get a rhythm for it,” Nishikori said. “Somehow I played good in the first match and started getting more confident every match. In the final, I think I played pretty good tennis.

“Usually I struggle. I’ve come back many times from injury and it usually takes half a year to be 100 per cent. You lose the confidence, you lose the feeling of the ball, the way to move, you kind of lose everything.

“But luckily, I had a lot of time to practice. This time, I feel already that I'm like 70, 80 per cent. So I'm quite happy about the way I'm playing right now.”

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What motivated Nishikori to make a comeback despite various injuries? The Japanese star’s eagerness to get back to the top of his game and have an opportunity to play some of the new faces in the sport.

“I had hip surgery, I sprained my ankle during these 20 months, and my shoulder was bad. So I had a couple of different injuries,” Nishikori said. “That was also why it was tough to maintain the motivation, but I just wanted to play tennis again and compete again. And especially watching Djokovic, Rafa still playing, fighting. And I haven’t played against [Carlos] Alcaraz, [Holger] Rune. That's something I also can't wait to play against them.”

After Bloomfield Hills, Nishikori will again compete on the ATP Challenger Tour next week in Chicago, Illinois. Later this month, he will return to ATP Tour action in Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

“I just need to play more matches,” Nishikori said. “I think I just need to play with those Top-50 players again. I just need to get used to playing with those guys and get confidence again. Overall I'm really happy with how I'm playing. I just need to focus and recover well.”

Nishikori will look to continue his comeback in winning fashion Thursday, when he faces third seed Denis Kudla at the Bloomfield Hills Challenger. Fans can live stream all ATP Challenger Tour matches for free and on demand on Challenger TV.

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