Nishikori's Global Goals
No. 8 seed to open Barclays ATP World Tour Finals campaign against Djokovic
Don’t pigeonhole Kei Nishikori. The first-ever Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final and the highest-ranked Asian in ATP World Tour history has ambitions that venture far beyond his homeland.
As the 2014 US Open runner-up explained earlier this year, “My goal is not to make new records in Asia; it's to be one of the best players in the world.”
At 25 the youngest of the elite eight at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, where he is appearing for the second consecutive year, the Japanese superstar hopes to further those global goals beginning on Sunday at The O2 in London. But it won’t be easy. After all, he’s slated to open his 2015 campaign against one of the hottest players the sport has ever seen: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
“That’s going to be the tough, for sure,” said Nishikori, who’s mentored by Michael Chang. “He’s been playing really well this year. He’s not going to give you any free points. Good serve, very consistent all around. So it’s going to be a tough one for a first match.”
The No. 8 seed is a sub-.500 2-4 against Djokovic in FedEx ATP Head2Head match-ups, but his 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 triumph over the Serb in the US Open semi-finals last year, and the fact that he was the only player to push Djokovic to three sets at the 2014 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, will certainly serve as confidence boosters.
“What he’s done is amazing, his consistency. Every tournament, he does well. That’s not easy,” Nishikori said. “He only lost a few matches this year [78-5]. He stays focused all the time. I think his concentration is amazing. He’s the toughest player to beat right now.”
Lurking elsewhere in Nishikori’s Stan Smith Group are six-time champion Roger Federer and Czech powerballer Tomas Berdych. He is 2-3 vs. Federer, and 3-1 vs. Berdych.
After winning titles this year in Memphis (d. Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4), Barcelona (d. Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-4) and Washington (d. John Isner 4-6, 6-4, 6-4), Nishikori suffered a setback at the US Open, unable to defend his run to the final after falling to Frenchman Benoit Paire in five sets in the first round 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4.
“I have to do a little better in the big tournaments, especially the Grand Slams and all the ATP World Tour Masters 1000s,” he said. “I missed three Masters this year with injuries (hip, shoulder). I did well, but not good enough to go Top 5 or higher. I hope I can do better. I did reach the quarter-finals at the French Open for the first time this year. So I’m looking forward to playing next year. Physically, I got much stronger the last couple of years. I try to work hard every day, try to be confident in every match and enjoy my tennis. It’s good motivation.”