Nishikori: "I Think I'm Right There"

Japanese star closing in on peak form for 2018 finale

Back at No. 12 in the ATP Rankings, it’s easy to forget that Kei Nishikori began his season on the comeback trail. The Japanese star’s 2017 campaign came to an end in August, after losing in his first match at Montreal due to a wrist injury.

But Nishikori has found his form again, advancing to the final on Monte-Carlo’s clay before reaching his first Wimbledon quarter-final and battling to the semi-finals of the US Open. The 28-year-old believes that his level is not far off from the tennis that carried him to a career-best World No. 4 in 2015.

“I think I’m right there,” Nishikori said on Sunday, ahead of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018. “Getting to the semi-final of the US Open, I have to be 100 per cent. So I think I’m back at a great level again. I just have to keep 100 per cent every tournament, every match, and just keep being positive, keep my confidence there, and just enjoy playing the matches.”

Nishikori had almost no confidence at all. He began his season playing two ATP Challenger Tour events to get matches in, and fell as low as World No. 39, his lowest placement in the ATP Rankings since October 2011.

“When I was playing the first couple tournaments, Challengers and [ATP World Tour] 250s, I was struggling, of course. I couldn’t feel the rhythm and didn’t have any confidence. I knew it was going to take some time,” Nishikori said. “It took a little while to get my confidence back, playing 100 per cent again. But finally I had some good results… I’m really happy with what I’m doing this year even though I had a tough first couple of months after coming back from injury. Now I’m playing pretty good tennis, a pretty good level again. So I’m really happy I’m back in shape again.”

The No. 3 seed is well-positioned to continue on his positive trajectory this week at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2018. Nishikori has captured the title in Tokyo twice, and will certainly have the full support of the fans in Japan who will flock to the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza in droves to catch a glimpse of their top-ranked player.

“Many good players come for this tournament and I’m sure a lot of guys are cheering for me, supporting me this week,” said Nishikori, who faces compatriot Yuichi Sugita in the first round. “I always enjoy playing in Japan. It’s something special. It’s only once or twice, a couple times a year I get to play in Japan, so I always enjoy it. Unfortunately I have to play a Japanese guy in the first round, but I hope I can enjoy this whole week.”

And by enjoying it and continuing to gain more confidence, Nishikori will be one of the favourites to triumph here, as he pursues his first tour-level title since Memphis in 2016.

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