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Kei Nishikori ready to break through on grass

Kei Nishikori speaks to the press
by Nicholas McCarvel
Saturday 21 June 2014

Is this the year that Kei Nishikori finally sees his star rise to the top?

An icon in Japan, the 24-year-old has been knocking on the door of the world's best for the past two years, arriving at the All England Club as the No.10 seed.

“I feel more confident,” Nishikori told reporters on Saturday. “It’s very different than last year. You know, I feel very good on coming here. Actually, I never did well on grass court, so hopefully I can do better this year.”

Nishikori, winner of five career titles, seemed well on his way to making such a breakthrough during the clay season. He won the title in Barcelona before his run to the Madrid final – beating Milos Raonic and David Ferrer on the way – and led Rafael Nadal by a set before a hip injury derailed him, forcing him to retire in the third set. He then crashed out in the first round at Roland Garros.

“The French was very unfortunate. I was kind of injured and I couldn't practise before,” Nishikori said of his defeat by Martin Klizan, the world No.59. “I was very sad to lose in the first round. But, my body is 100 per cent and  I’m playing good.”

Healthy again, Nishikori plays on Tuesday against the unheralded Frenchman, Kenny De Scheper, and is then scheduled to face Raonic in the fourth round and then Nadal, the No.2 seed, in the quarter-finals.

Nishikori has arrived at Wimbledon with the best preparation of his career on grass behind him. Thanks to the early exit in Paris, he and coach Michael Chang spent two weeks in Halle, Germany, working on his game and honing it for the fast surface, which hasn’t been kind to Nishikori in the past.

“I played a good three matches in Halle,” Nishikori said. “Everything is good for next week.”

It was in Halle that he lost in the semi-finals to Roger Federer. Earlier this year, in Miami, Nishikori stunned Federer in one of the biggest wins of his careers, only to have to pull out of the semi-finals with a groin injury.

But Japan’s No.1, the first player to an ATP title in front of his home crowd in that country (Tokyo, 2012), says he feels fit and confident for two weeks of five-set play. He has a 4-5 record in five appearances at Wimbledon, having made the third round the last two years.

Having worked for years from Nick Bollettieri’s famed training base in Florida, Nishikori added the venerable Michael Chang, a former world No.2, to his team in December and has seemed to reap the benefits of Chang’s experience and know-how.

“I think you can see my tennis is changing,” Nishikori said of Chang’s impact. “There is not many chances when you play against top guys, so I try to concentrate and be a little more aggressive. He’s helping my tennis grow.”

Chang has gone back home to the U.S. for Wimbledon, leaving Nishikori to work with his regular advisor, Dante Bottini. It might be too much to ask for this to be Nishikori’s big moment, however. He has a 17-16 career record on grass courts, but doesn’t seem fazed by the chance to join the elite, which seems to be a matter now of “when,” not “if.”

“I can play good here,” he said. “I think I can have chance to go further in the weeks. I’ll just play one match at a time.”

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