Kei Talks Form, Federer & Osaka
Japanese star seeded sixth at the opening ATP Masters 1000 event of 2019
Seeded sixth at this year's event, the Japanese No. 1 opened the year by snapping a nine-match losing streak in ATP Tour finals at the Brisbane International (d. Medvedev) and has maintained his strong start to the season with 12 wins from 15 matches to solidify his position inside the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings. With only 45 points to defend across the opening two ATP Masters 1000 events of the year in March, the 29-year-old is in a strong position to make a return to the Top 5 for the first time since 23 April 2017.
"[Brisbane was my] first time winning a tournament to start the year. I think that was big," said Nishikori. "[I am] always happy to win a title. I think I am having a good, decent start [to the year]... These two tournaments [in Indian Wells and Miami] are very important for me... I hope I can do well."
At this point last year, Nishikori was in the early stages of his comeback from a right wrist injury. The World No. 7 was forced to miss six months of ATP Tour action between August 2017 and February 2018, but has since managed to find great consistency in his performances. Despite an unfortunate quarter-final retirement against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open, Nishikori was clear that he is in peak condition ahead of an exciting month in the United States.
"I feel very good," said Nishikori. "[It was] unfortunate to retire in Australia, but I played a couple of long matches so I expected to have something. In the past couple of weeks, I [have been] feeling really well."
After addressing his own fitness levels, Nishikori also took a moment to appreciate the fitness record of one of his greatest rivals. The 12-time tour-level titlist shared his thoughts on Roger Federer's ability to keep his body in peak condition for the large majority of his career, while competing at the highest level. It's an attribute which has surely played a major role in the Swiss being able to lift 100 tour-level trophies throughout his career.
"It is something incredible to see, how [often Roger] plays at a high level and does not have many injuries," said Nishikori. "For sure, he works so much harder than everybody. You don't see much, but I am sure he works really hard. The way he plays is very smooth. It doesn't look like he puts any stress on his body when he plays any shots. I think that is the biggest [reason] he doesn't get too many injuries."
Despite missing the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, Japan was able to celebrate success 12 months ago at this event. Last year's tournament will be remembered by many as the breakthrough event of Naomi Osaka, who powered through the women's field to lift her first title. Since then, the Japanese star has soared to the top of the women's game with back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the US Open and Australian Open.
With the weight of Japanese expectation partially lifted from his shoulders, Nishikori shared his thoughts on the emergence of the 21-year-old who enters a tour-level event for the first time as a defending champion this week.
"I am very surprised. I think everybody is surprised how [quickly Naomi] has become the World No. 1, winning two Grand Slams," said Nishikori. "I can imagine it is not easy [for her] to adjust her mental [state]. Becoming No. 1 is something I have never had before, so I cannot tell how much she feels pressure, but I am sure she feels something now.
"If she stays strong, I am sure in time [she will adjust to this] being normal. I am sure she will handle it well because, for me, she has very good mental [strength]... I am sure she is going to be fine. [The pressure] will come some days, but hopefully she can enjoy this moment."