Not speaking a word of English, a 14-year-old Kei Nishikori made a bold move from his hometown of Shimane, Japan to the shores of American in pursuit of his tennis dream.
Now residing permanently in Florida, Japan’s number one ranked player is the 16th seed at Australian Open 2013. After making the quarterfinals last year, his best result in a Grand Slam to date, the 23-year old is through to the fourth round, where he’ll meet Spain’s David Ferrer. He spoke with australianopen.com about what makes him special as a player.
Australian Open: How did you spend your off season, and what areas of your game did you work on?
Nishikori: For two weeks I was in Chicago just training, doing a lot of weight training and rehab. I’m trying to be a little more aggressive than I used to, try to go to the net more if I can. My serve is getting better, that’s the one thing we worked on last year. It’s faster and has more, how do you say, control and good second serve as well.
What do you think is your greatest strength on court?
I think speed. I try to get every ball I can, and that’s something I have to do with my height. And I don’t have a big serve like ... everyone else. I was quick when I was young I think but you know, I’m working on it still. And my forehand also I would say.
What are you goals for 2013?
Hopefully top 10. That’s the big goal, but hopefully to keep my ranking top 20 and stay strong and healthy.
How do you deal with being so famous in Japan?
I went home in November. It’s good, it’s a little bit crazy I have to say. Everybody knows me but I also get to relax a lot. My family and friends are all there, so I get to enjoy spending time in Japan. My parents are here now, they come to all the Grand Slams and big tournaments.
Which Grand Slam is your favourite and why?
I think I would have to say here (Australian Open), I had my best result here. I feel a lot of confidence coming here. I love the courts, the balls, the clothes ... I like everything about playing here. Japanese fans show up a lot here and I even have Australians cheering for me.
What event would you most like to win on the ATP tour?
Could I say this title? A big goal of mine was the Japan Open but I was lucky enough to win that last year, so I’ll say here.
There were three Japanese men in the men’s singles draw of Australian Open 2013. Do you share a special bond off the court?
Definitely. We always go to dinner together. It’s good to see three (Nishikori, Tatsuma Ito and Go Soeda) guys in the top 100 and there’s a few guys coming through as well, so it’s good for Japan.
At 42 years old your countrywoman Kimiko Date-Krumm is in the third round of women’s singles. Will we see you on the tour at that age?
I don’t know, I don’t think so (laughs). But it’s amazing to see how much she can play now. She so strict for the tennis, there are so many things to learn off her (in regards to) discipline.