At the ATP Finals in London, Kei Nishikori dispatched Roger Federer 7-6(4) 6-3, a result far improved compared with his return to the Tour back in January 2018.
The former US Open finalist made a comeback from wrist surgery on the second-tier Challenger Tour and fell in his opening match to world No.238 Dennis Novikov at Newport Beach.
Having decided to pass on the 2018 Australian Open to continue his rehabilitation, Nishikori remained in the States and won his next Challenger in Dallas.
Less than a year on, the Japanese star is back in the top 10 and on Sunday night will feature in the Brisbane International final, where he meets Russian rising star Daniil Medvedev.
— Kei Nishikori (@keinishikori) February 2, 2018
Federer hailed the Japanese star for his bravery following defeat in London. “I’m happy for him because he started playing challengers. That was a bold decision early on,” stated the 20-time Grand Slam champion. “That deserves credit and respect.”
Within a year of losing at Newport Beach, Nishikori incrementally rediscovered his form and confidence.
“It took me a while to trust my wrist,” Nishikori told reporters at the ATP Finals. “I don’t know how long, but maybe 4-5 months after coming back. I still had some pain while playing. But now I feel much more comfortable.”
A Wimbledon quarterfinal and US Open semifinal (both tournaments ending in defeat to eventual champion Novak Djokovic) launched Nishikori back into the spotlight, as did three finals appearances in Monte Carlo, Tokyo – where he fell to Medvedev – and Vienna.
In Brisbane, Nishikori has maintained his momentum, dismissing Denis Kudla, Grigor Dimitrov and Jeremy Chardy in straight sets.
“After Dimi’s match and today’s match was almost perfect, I would say. Serve and return was phenomenal today,” said Nishikori, having conceded just four games to oust Chardy in Saturday’s semifinal.
“I played very solid today. Everything was good.”
Air Kei. [getty] pic.twitter.com/KB3HXCx1bF
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) January 3, 2019
Remarkably the 29-year-old hasn’t lifted an ATP title since February 2016 in Memphis. Nine finals and 51 tournaments have passed and Nishikori would relish ending that drought.
“It means a lot if you win a trophy, but the chance will come and now I am in the final again, and this is another chance,” said the Brisbane International 2017 runner-up.
“I’m not worried too much, because even though I didn’t win a tournament, I was in Top 10 last year. I am trying to win every final, of course, and hope I can get it sometime.”
Medvedev again stands in Kei’s way on Sunday.
Daniil Medvedev continues his strong #BrisbaneTennis run ???????????
The rising Russian star saves two SPs in the first and then sails through set two, 7-6(6) 6-2 over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
He'll face Kei Nishikori in Sunday's final pic.twitter.com/jWFea9zbOb
— #BrisbaneTennis (@BrisbaneTennis) January 5, 2019
Back in the Tokyo finale, the 22-year-old brushed Nishikori aside 6-2 6-4 just a few months after the Japanese won their maiden duel on the sun-kissed Monte Carlo clay.
Medvedev has snuck up the rankings, somewhat under the radar yet with astonishing consistency. The world No.16 has replicated his title-winning form in Sydney last year by defeating the big-name trio of Andy Murray, Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga this week in Brisbane.
“Daniil is playing very solid from last year,” said Nishikori. “I think he has potential to be in top 10 soon.”
Medvedev is playing like he belongs in the upper echelons and will crack the Top 15 for the first time with a title triumph on Sunday night.
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) January 5, 2019
“I played three incredible players of our sport were all in the Top 10. Murray was No.1. Raonic No.2 or 3. So it shows that I have something in my game,” assessed the youngster.
“I am trying to improve every day, so I cannot say for sure if I improved something compared to my last tournaments of the season, but at least I’m happy that my wave continues.
“So finishing the year strong, starting the first week with a final already. Have one match to play. Who knows what’s going to happen there tomorrow, so I’m just happy about it.”
He appears calm and assured, but Medvedev is aware of Nishikori’s blistering all-court artillery. “I was sleeping today during their match,” admitted Medvedev, having missed Nishikori’s semifinal win.
“I saw only one game which he broke running, amazing. We all know how he plays. He’s an amazing player. If he can beat Chardy 2 and 2, that means something.
“So, I’m going to go out there and try to show my best and we’ll see who wins.”
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