Ambitious Nishikori ready to take on the game's best

Updated: 2011-10-18 08:12

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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SHANGHAI - Try to imagine how hard it is to leave your parents at the age of 13 to pursue your dream in an unknown country.

That's exactly what Japan's Kei Nishikori (pictured) did as he moved closer to his tennis dream at the Shanghai Masters last week.

Underdog Nishikori stormed into a maiden ATP 1000 semifinal berth in the east China city and became the first Asian to advance that far since Thai Paradorn Srichaphan at Indian Wells in 2006.

Nishikori's feat will project him to about No 32 in the world and break retired compatriot Shuzo Matsuoka's record of No 46 as the highest ranked Japanese player.

Ambitious Nishikori ready to take on the game's best

"A great breakthrough for me here. I was thinking if I can get a top 30 or 40 this year, that was my goal and I realized it. For my whole career I want to be No 1. That's my dream," said Nishikori after losing to the event's defending champion, Andy Murray, in the semis on Saturday.

As the head of Asian male tennis now, the 21-year-old launched his long journey eight years ago after landing at the renowned Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida. Nishikori initially found it difficult to merge with the ambitious western juniors due to language barriers and culture shock.

"In the second year, when I traveled around Florida more and more I did miss home," Nishikori said. His confidence also took a hit due to his size and power as he struggled to mix it with players from 132 different countries at the camp.

Gabe Jaramillo, head coach at the academy, strongly believed in Nishikori's talent and assembled a 14-man crew, including a trainer, a physiotherapist, a nutritionist and even a yoga teacher, to help him improve.

"He (Nishikori) showed he was a player of great potential. The trials showed the coaches at the academy that he could compete in different situations and adjust to the American lifestyle," said Jaramillo, who once worked with US stars Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

As a result, Nishikori performed well at ITF Futures events and fought his way into the quarterfinals of the 2006 junior French Open before claiming his first ATP title at Delray Beach in 2008.

Nishikori was named the 2008 ATP Newcomer of the Year and became the second youngest pro tour titlist (18 years, one month and 19 days) after Australia's Lleyton Hewitt.

"For me, it was really helpful training in the US when I was young. There are a lot of powerful players, different type of players. That helped me to learn how to win against them. I'm also planning to go to Europe some time soon," Nishikori said about his future training program.

After a low period due to a serious elbow injury in 2009, Nishikori regained his form under new coach Brad Gilbert this season; enjoying a solid 32-19 record on the tour and showcasing a package which includes an aggressive forehand, smart footwork and accurate baseline strokes. Nishikori upset French world No 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No 12 seed Alexandr Dolgopolov of the Ukraine en route to the semis and earned high praise from his opponents.

"He was injured quite badly. But he's come back well and played really good. This has been a great week for him," said Murray, who was also coached by Gilbert from 2006 to 2007. Spain's world No 5, David Ferrer, hailed the Japanese as a potential top-10 ace.

"I think he is going to be a very good player. I don't know if he is going to be in the top 10, but I think he can do it," said Ferrer.

China Daily

(China Daily 10/18/2011 page24)