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Kei Nishikori will face Marin Cilic in the last eight in New York, a rematch of the 2014 US Open final that was won by Cilic.

Nishikori: 'I Don't Have Any Pressure'

Japanese star reflects on recovery from right wrist injury ahead of US Open quarter-final

This time last year, Kei Nishikori didn’t want to watch the US Open. The Japanese star was sidelined with a right wrist injury, missing his first Grand Slam since 2012 Roland Garros.

“I saw maybe the final,” Nishikori said. “I didn't really want to see any matches, because I know if I saw, I wanted to play. After Cincy, I took maybe a month doing nothing and just doing rehab. I think I started watching at the end of the year last year. I started to have more time, and at that time I was starting hitting some sponge balls, playing some tennis. That's when I start watching tennis again.”

And less than a year later, the 2014 finalist at Flushing Meadows is into the quarter-finals at this event for the third time. While it’s no surprise that Nishikori has the level in him, considering he has climbed as high as No. 4 in the ATP Rankings, it might not have been easy to foresee considering the 28-year-old began his season playing two ATP Challenger Tour events as he continued his recovery.

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“I was playing one match at a time, because I didn't have any confidence and I was still worried about my wrist,” Nishikori said. “I still had pain a couple tournaments after coming back.”

There were no thoughts of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo, his first quarter-final at Wimbledon or this performance in New York.

“We didn’t have any expectations. I think that’s important for us, that we didn’t have any expectations,” said Nishikori’s coach Dante Bottini. “We just were working day by day, trying to be as healthy as possible and try to go match by match and the results would come along. So I think if you expect too much of yourself, and too quickly, that can mess around a little bit with your confidence and with your head.“

And in a way, Nishikori has flown under the radar. He was inside the Top 10 for nearly three consecutive years, from the Monday after his runner-up finish at the US Open four years ago until last August. But he fell as low as No. 39 this April as he searched for form after his injury. In a way, that has helped.

“This year is easy for me, because I don't expect any big results. I try to play one match at a time,” Nishikori said. “This week it's been great. You know, every match I’ve been playing really good tennis, and, well, maybe I had more pressure a few years ago. I wanted to keep [my ATP Ranking in the] Top 10 every year, and that gave me a little bit of pressure.

“I kind of reset last year. Took six months off and this year, it's been great. Right now I don't have any pressure, but I’m also enjoying playing every match and enjoying playing tennis again a little more than before.”

With his run to the quarter-finals, Nishikori is projected to climb back into the Top 15. But more than anything, Bottini is happiest with the way his charge has been dictating play on the court, and how offensive he has been with his tactics. This tournament could have gone wrong considering the 11-time ATP World Tour titlist lost three of four matches before arriving in Flushing Meadows. But a small mindset change has helped.

“Just keep being positive, keep swinging, keep trying to look for the point. That’s his game, so he needs to keep doing it,” Bottini said. “I like the way that he’s playing right now. I like the way that he’s focusing. We don’t know if he’s going to reach No. 4 or No. 3. But we’re working for that. I like the way we are in this moment. He still needs a couple more wins and more matches under his belt, but he’s looking good.”

There is no pressure. Nishikori is simply having fun and giving it his all. And while he still has niggles here and there, his wrist is doing well.

“Monte-Carlo was really surprise for me to going final again. Even though I had some pain, I played through and that gave me a lot of confidence,” Nishikori said. “Clay-court season was great. First time going to quarter-finals in Wimbledon and everything, it's going well this year.”

And it might even get better when he faces Marin Cilic in a rematch of their 2014 championship match.

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