Kei Nishikori. Beginning
After he won the Barcelona title and finished as the runner-up in the Madrid Open, the world started speaking about the gifted player from Japan. We’ve already mentioned that if it weren’t for recurrent injuries, Kei would now be in a more privileged ranking position. Now let’s try to puzzle it out what helped the Japanese athlete to achieve these results.
From the moment he appeared on courts, Kei Nishikori has always been one of 5 or 6 super talented promising players. Within the last 3-4 years Kei showed nothing special which reflected on his modest results: he sustained a good tennis level, won several ATP 250 titles, performed well on majors – but he still lacked some resounding victory. He has hovered around the top 10 for some time, occupying 15-17 positions, but it wasn’t until the current 2014 season when he finally got inside the ATP top 10. Frankly speaking, I believe that only his constant injuries prevented him from ascending tennis' rankings. Otherwise, we would be talking about him long ago. Nevertheless, last year he could only dream about breaking into the top 10…
Kei Nishikori. Serve
But where did such a breakthrough come from? What factors have contributed to the excellent results in this season? The main reason is quite evident for those who have analyzed his matches – greatly improved service game. His serve has become more powerful, faster, more accurate and diverse. To prove it, let’s refer to the serve stats for the last year and make a comparison with this one. Last year Kei Nishikori served 140 aces while in this season, in its first half to be more precise, he has already hit 124 aces which is almost equal to his last season limit. Impressive, isn’t it? The next point is the double faults and aces ratio. For the last season(s) it was negative. In other words, the number of double faults outweighed the aces. Such a negative double faults/aces ration for the men’s singles is mildly speaking a rather poor indication. It’s near to impossible to break into the tennis elite with such characteristics. But what do we see today? The number of aces is twice as much as of double faults. And this is the mere fact of the increasing efficiency. The more the better.
What do the more powerful first serve and the more variable in techniques the second one contribute to? With no doubt, the Japanese player got a higher percentage of both serves: by 3% and 2% correspondingly. But this seemingly insignificant growth led to the cumulative reliability of his service games rise from 78% to 83%. Without question, it’s a very great leap forward. To make it clear, let me point it out that today the serve of the Japanese player is as reliable as that of Rafael Nadal and exceeds the indicators of Andy Murray, for example, or Gasquet. A season ago such it was unimaginable. But tennis is full of surprises.
Keep it in mind that the Japanese athlete is not a giant at all. With his modest 5 feet and 10 inches he possesses one of the best serve among the players of the same height. So Nishikori is one more proof that the players of no athletic nature may achieve outstanding results in tennis.
Kei Nishikori. Footwork
Going deeper, the Japanese has gained more speed on the baseline. But it doesn’t mean that his shots have become more powerful. No, definitely not. Kei Nishikori couldn’t generate more powerful strokes due to his natural abilities, so he plays his cards differently. He benefits from getting ahead of his opponents and handling the ball as early as possible. To put it plaint, the time gap between the moment the ball bounces on his part of the court and touches his racket is much shorter than of the other players. This tactics enables him to speed up the course of the play and thus make the opponent more vulnerable in defense. He forces his opponents into hurried responses. As a result, his competitors have no time for swinging. This component has always been the Nishikori’s perk, but in this season he has made it even better.
It has also become questionable who moves faster on court: Rafael Nadal or Kei Nishikori. It is widely believed that tennis is a feet play. And the Japanese player today may be justifiable proud of his footwork. If you want to be one step ahead on court, it’s vital to move as fast as you can. The closer you are to the net, the less time your opponent has to hit the ball. And this is the task the Japanese copes perfectly well with. Some problems arise only on grass surface which makes the ball bounce faster.
And the last but not the least is tennis technique. Kei has a perfect shot-making technique, with no drawbacks. Note that it’s almost a unique case in men’s singles today. Only one more perfection comes to my mind. It’s Novak Djokovic. The rest of the players are a bit “spoilt”. Nadal has some troubles with backhand, as well as Federer. Grigor Dimitrov shall improve the service return, Milos Raonic can hit a maximum of three shots. David Ferrer has a modest service record. Nishikori’s superb techniques make him inconvenient for the majority of his opponents. Generally, this strategy leads to success.
Kei Nishikori. Injury
It was really frustrating that Nishikori suffered another back injury in Madrid. And only Kei knows how severe it is. But we wish it were not something crucial, as these consequent injuries bring the Japanese player down and prevent him from gaining top results. Keeping the current tennis level, and taking for granted his good condition, Nishikori can’t but take the 6-8 ranking position, on the background of Del Potro injury, Murray’s slovenliness and Berdych’s absence of will. Who knows, maybe it will be the triumph year for Nishikori? Quite possible. If he keeps astonishing us with his play. What trumps does he have in his arsenal? I hope that he hasn’t fully reveal his talent and will surprise his fans more and more.
PS. Nishikori is now obliged to make it to London and to break into the top 5. As he has no titles to defend: 3rd round in Montreal followed by the 1st round in Cincinnati, disastrous Wimbledon and the USA open.
And in conclusion, a package of Kei Nishikori best shots in 2014.
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