Kei Nishikori is a professional tennis player and the only male Japanese player ever to rank inside the top 10 in ATP’s singles ranking. He was named the ATP newcomer of the year in 2008, runner-up at the 2014 U.S Open, and the first man from Asia to qualify for the ATP World Tour finals, reaching the semi-finals in 2014 and ranked number 4 by March 2015.
Early playing history
Nishikori began playing at the age of 5 and moved from Japan to the US at age 14 to train at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Florida and could not speak a word of English when he arrived. Born in Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, he first won the All Japan Tennis Championships for Kids in 2001, graduated from the Aomori-Yamada High School and then moved to Florida.
His junior career really started-off when he won the Raid 21 Tournament in Rabat, Morocco in 2004, he reached the quarterfinals at the 2006 Junior French Open, and together with Emiliano Massa enjoyed victory in that year’s Junior French Open. He also won the Luxilon Cup in 2007, traditionally presented at the Sony Ericsson Open wherein he defeated Michael McClune.
2006 started-off by receiving a wildcard invitation to the Kyoto Challenger in Japan, and Nishikori won the title at the ITF Futures event in Mexico.
In 2007 he was a finalist in two USTA Pro Circuit events where he partnered with Donald Young in Carson, California he went on to win the doubles title at Little Rock. Nishikori served as a hitting partner for Roger Federer at Wimbledon.
He qualified in July 2007 for the Indiana Tennis Championships, in the first round beat Alejandro Falla, Micheal Berrer, eliminated the 7th seeded Roddy Ginepri and advanced to his first ATP quarter final, and although he lost to Dmitry Tursunov, became the youngest player to reach the quarterfinals at Indianapolis since Boris Becker.
Rise to the top
2008 started-off with Nishikori reaching the semi-finals of the Miami Challenger tournament, ranked world number 244 he entered the Delray Beach tournament and gained entrance to the main draw defeating Nicolas Todero. In the second set he defeated Florian Mayer, in the quarterfinals he won against Bobby Reynolds, he upset Sam Querrey in the semi-finals and did the same to top ranked James Blake defeating him in three sets to become the first Japanese male player in 16 years to win an ATP event.
He made his debut at the US Open and reached the third round after drowning Roko Karanusic from Croatia. On the 30th of August 2008, he became the 1st Japanese player to reach round 16 in the US Open in over 71 years by beating 4th ranked David Ferrer in five sets, but then lost his chance to compete in the quarter finals. He had a disappointing injury filled season in 2009, after being named the Newcomer of the year in the 2008 ATP and the first Asian player to win an award.
In 2010 Nishikori made a comeback, received a wildcard at Delray Beach, matched to Benjamin Becker in the 1st round. He also returned to the April Challenger tour and reached the quarterfinals at both the Tallahassee and Baton Rouge events, and later enjoyed victory over Ryan Sweeting in the Savannah Challenger final. He also won the Sarasota Open on the 15th of May 2010 where he defeated Brian Dabul in three sets. The Japanese number 1 player enjoyed his best Grand Slam tournament in 2010 where he made it to the third round.
After reaching the third round of the 2011 Tennis Australian Open, during his second final at the 2011 U.S Men’s Clay Court Championship he defeated by Ryan Sweeting and faced Lleyton Hewitt in the first round at Wimbledon where he lost in four sets, and retired in the first round at the U.S Open.
He reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final at the Shanghai Masters, where he lost to Andy Murray in his first Masters 1000 semi-final, where after he reached the world number 30 ranking. In October of the same year, he won the Rakuten Japan Open in Tokyo, winning, his first ATP500 and second career ATP Tour title, lifting his ranking to World number 15. In 2013, Nishikori won his 3rd career title in the U.S National Indoor Championship and finished the tournament without dropping a set.
In 2014 Michael Chang became his coach and he made it to round 4 in the Tennis Australian Open, defended his U.S National Indoor Tennis Championship in Memphis by eliminating Ivo Karlovic in the final, and in Barcelona he won the final in two sets against Santiago Giraldo. He again made history by reaching the final in the Madrid Open, which was also his first Masters 1000 tournament final. Kei beat David Ferrer in the semi-final and faced defending champion Rafael Nadal in the final, he won the first set, but was forced to retire in the third round due to back injury, he still achieved a career high by ranking as number 9 in ATP singles.
Nishikori started the Asian Swing by entering the Malaysian Open as first ranked and won his third season title, there after he won the Rakuten Japan Open thereby winning his 10th ATP title in 2015.
Fun facts about Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori was voted as the hottest male tennis player by InStyle.com and in 2013, he earned $10 million for the year despite his relatively low profile.
He was classified as any sponsor’s dream at the age of 23 due to being the best male to ever play from Japan, his steady rise, his popularity, and wide appeal in both Japan and abroad.
Nishikori collaborated with the American Red Cross in the days following the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. His success is a combination of creativity and speed, which translates into a fun game to watch on any court surface.
He enjoys a low profile life in Florida, and said that while in Florida nobody recognises him except for the odd reporter, although he thinks of returning to Japan once he retires as currently many people recognize him and it’s not easy to walk the streets.