Kei Nishikori has climbed as high as No. 4 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, competed in the Nitto ATP Finals four times and lifted 12 ATP Tour titles. But at 31, the Japanese star is still willing to change his technique.
After beating Alex de Minaur on Wednesday to reach the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament quarter-finals, Nishikori admitted that he has been tinkering with his service motion.
“I did it after elbow surgery [in October 2019] and last December. I was working with Max [Mirnyi], Michael [Chang] and a Japanese coach as well,” Nishikori said. “I tried to look again with my serve and I needed more power, but less use of my shoulder. I was hurting my shoulder too, last year.
“I don’t feel 100 per cent yet, but I think it’s on the way. I was hitting good serves the past two matches, today and [in] the first round, so I’m happy with my serve now.”
In the first round, Nishikori’s serve was especially impressive against seventh seed Felix Auger-Aliassime. Nishikori did not get broken against the Canadian, who struggled physically in the second set. The Japanese star won 85 per cent of his first-serve points against Felix.
Nishikori’s refined motion is meant to reduce the pressure on his shoulder. In the past, before exploding up to the ball, he would drop his racquet backwards with his forearm so that the strings were nearly parallel to the court. The Japanese player “wasn’t 100 per cent sure” about addressing that, but he spoke to his coaches and moved forward with changing his form.
“Because of my history of injury, I feel like I still need to change something if I have time and if I have the chance. I’m really open to anything,” Nishikori said. “Of course it’s not easy, it’s going to take some time. I still feel like it’s not there yet. But for my body, I will do anything that makes it better.”
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The World No. 45 will play Dusan Lajovic or Borna Coric for a spot in the semi-finals. There are no seeded players remaining in the top half of the draw, which could provide Nishikori an opportunity to reach his first ATP Tour final since winning the Brisbane title in 2019.
“Usually I don’t see the draw, so I don’t usually know who I’m going to play next,” Nishikori said. “Daniil was the hottest player for sure in this tournament and I would say Stefanos, too. I think those two are a little bit different and Andrey Rublev, too. But still, [in the] Top 100, everybody can beat a Top 10 player, I would say. There is going to be some gap between [the] Top 50 and Top 10, but still I think anybody can beat anyone right now. It’s going to still be tough.”
For now, the Japanese star is happy to be playing well. The former World No. 4 has looked impressive against two of the sport’s top young talents in Auger-Aliassime and De Minaur.
“I’ve been having a really tough time with injury and [I’m] happy to be in the quarter-finals [in] this tough tournament,” Nishikori said. “I just need to keep going and be ready for the next match.”