After crossing the Rubicon into the upper echelon of the ATP World Tour, Kei Nishikori has no problem admitting that his semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open was life-changing.
“A lot of people in Japan now recognise me, even in the US some people recognise me — I never had that before,” Nishikori told The Economic Times. “ It’s a great feeling. Feel like I’m famous! It’s not like I want to be famous but it’s a great motivation for me. If you have good attention, you feel more excited. When I go back to Japan, it’s not easy as it not as relaxing (as before) but I try to enjoy the moment.”
While his first appearance at a Grand Slam final was the main accomplishment for the player once dubbed “Project 45” – in reference to the ranking he aimed to achieve once he joined the tour at 18 – his season is not over yet.
After finishing the regular season with a semi-final appearance at the Paris Bercy, the Japanese No. 1 will make his debut at the Barclays World Tour Finals – the prestigious year-end championships for the Top 8 competitors on the tour.
While he is excited about the opportunity to join the top players on the tour in London, Nishikori is also aware of the nerve wrecking pressure he will be faced with once he arrives for his first match against Andy Murray on Sunday.
“I might get nervous first time but I’ll try to play my best tennis and try not to think too much of it being the Tour Finals. It’s a great achievement to play in the Finals for the first time. Last year I started thinking about playing there, so it will be really great.”
Standing at 5’10”, Nishikori is one of the smallest players on the tour, and is generally faced with the task of withstanding the power of larger players.
His solution? His trademark footwork.
“It’s not easy to play the big guys, especially since I’m one of the smallest guys on tour. But I have advantage of good footwork. I have something that they don’t have. That’s the fun part of tennis.”