© Hiroshi Sato

Yoshihito Nishioka speaks to Japanese media in Tokyo on Monday, less than 24 hours after lifting his first ATP World Tour trophy in Shenzhen.

Nishioka: 'I'm Very Surprised To Win' In Shenzhen

Japanese player completes journey back from major injury with title

This time last year, when the ATP World Tour came to Tokyo for the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, Yoshihito Nishioka was not competing. In fact, he wasn’t on a tennis court at all. At the 2017 Miami Open presented by Itau, Nishioka tore his ACL, which would require surgery last April.

The Japanese rehabbed here in Tokyo. And while on the mend, he wasn’t thinking about big-picture goals. More simply, he was working on walking, and then running. If nothing else, Nishioka was focused on working towards a return to the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings. Little did he know that last week, as the World No. 171, he would qualify and then win the Shenzhen Open.

“I’m very surprised to win this tournament,” Nishioka admitted.

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Before the event, Nishioka owned just a 5-10 tour-level record in 2018. While did reach the quarter-finals in Los Cabos, there was still doubt as far as how quickly he could recover his top level, which carried him to World No. 58 last March, if he could rediscover that form at all.

“I think not many men’s players have ACL surgery, so everybody didn’t know how much I could recover. Maybe I could recover or maybe I couldn’t, they weren’t sure yet,” Nishioka said. “I was a little bit afraid how much I could run.

“My weapon is movement and footwork, so I didn’t know how much I could move well. That was very scary when I was injured and coming back. I showed after ACL surgery I could win a tournament on the ATP World Tour, so that makes me very happy.”

Since his return in January, Nishioka has focused a majority of his attention on his conditioning. The 23-year-old has wanted to physically prepare himself to compete against the best players in the world.

“I’m training very hard. I didn’t practise that much, but I think what’s really important right now for me is my fitness and nutrition. That’s the most important thing right now,” Nishioka said. “That’s why I think it’s not a problem, I can play seven matches in a row in a week and still be healthy with no injury. That’s a big reason I won this tournament.”

And that could be what propels him past his previous career-best. Nishioka felt pressure to return to the Top 100. Now, with that weight off his shoulders, the left-hander can play freely.

“I can relax a little bit because I was looking to play the main draw of the Australian Open next year,” Nishioka said. “I had a few pressures as well before I won this tournament, but now I can play more relaxed and I think I can play better.”

While the past couple of days have been a whirlwind for Nishioka, he now will look to carry the momentum into his home tournament in Tokyo. This is where he spent hour after hour pushing for a return to the court. And now, not only is he back on the court, but he’s competing for the first time as an ATP World Tour titlist.

“This is a little bit tough because I didn’t have any time to test the court or the balls, everything’s different. But it’s great that I have the home crowd,” Nishioka said. “My opponent is very tough, Nick Kyrgios is not easy. But if I play my best game, maybe I think I have a chance here to win the match… there’s only one tournament on the ATP World Tour in Japan, so I’ll try to do my best. I want to show all my fans my best game and hopefully they’ll be interested in my tennis.”