Nishikori: ‘I’m Almost There’
Just three months after making his return to competitive action on the ATP Challenger Tour in Newport Beach and Dallas, Kei Nishikori reminded the tennis world of his abilities with a hard-fought run to the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters final this week.
The former World No. 4, who was forced to shut down his 2017 ATP World Tour season with a wrist injury last August, navigated a tough draw in the Principality, defeating Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev in three-set battles en route to the championship match (l. to Nadal).
“This week [is] going to help a lot with my confidence,” revealed Nishikori. “I think I’ve been playing well this week, and I think I’m almost there, [at my top level].”
Despite falling short of winning his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title, the 28-year-old was proud of his progress after reaching his first final since the 2017 Argentina Open (l. to Dolgopolov).
“It was a great week for me,” said Nishikori. “I’m very happy that [I] made [the] final here.”
Nishikori had taken an early advantage in Sunday’s final, breaking the World No. 1 in the third game of the match to lead 2-1, but Nadal eventually established control of the match before racing to the title in the second set.
“I knew it was going to be tough to maintain my level because he gives me all the balls back,” said Nishikori. “I knew it was going to be tough even though I was up [a] break.
”I was kind of out of gas… especially [in the] second set,” admitted Nishikori. “He makes [it] tough… he was also playing great tennis.”
While Nishikori may continue to experience some discomfort in his wrist, the 2014 US Open finalist did take comfort in how his wrist, and body in general, stood up to the pressure of playing 14 sets, against top-level opposition, to progress to the final.
“I was handling [the situation] well,” said Nishikori. “Maybe my body, especially my legs, were very heavy today, playing three sets, three days in a row, playing with tough players. It wasn’t easy physically.”
While a successful week in Monte-Carlo, without injury, is a positive sign for Nishikori, he revealed the close monitoring process that goes into avoiding further issues.
“I [have] got to check [the wrist] every week, every day. It’s not 100% yet,” said Nishikori. “I [have] got to take care every week.”
Nishikori now heads to the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where he could meet Nadal once again in the third round. The two-time champion (2014, 2015) is the only non-Spanish winner of the event since 2002 (Gaudio) and will open his bid for a third title against countryman Yuichi Sugita or Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round.