Nishikori Reveals Federer Set Win, Sizes-Up San Jose
by Richard Vach | February 20th, 2008, 10:08 am

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, the 18-year-old training in Florida at the IMG/Bollettieri Academy, wasn’t on anyone’s radar at Delray Beach, even after he qualified into the main draw. Last year he beat two non-Top 50 players to reach the quarters at the ATP event in Indianapolis, but his 5-6 win-loss record at the Challenger level didn’t have sponsors lining up with pens in hand.
My how that changed in one week in Delray Beach.

Nishikori is the toast of Japan and his adopted Florida after fighting off four match points in the Delray Beach semifinals against Sam Querrey, then coming from a set down to stun James Blake in the final.

By reaching the semis in Delray, Nishikori received a ‘special exempt’ into the main draw this week at the SAP Open in San Jose; since it is the same level tournament as Delray, and by reaching the semis, Nishikori could not make it out to California in time for the qualifying. Little did anyone know, the 18-year-old would still be around by the time of the trophy presentation, and on the receiving end of it.

“I was working so hard these last two months,” said Nishikori on a conference call today. “I was injured, my back, and now it’s okay. My serve was good last week. I get some aces and it was getting so much better. And the mentally was so strong, I saved so many, like, break points, I was so aggressive, and yeah, I mean, mentally was so strong.”

Nishikori is still working on his English, if you can’t tell, four years ago basically only knowing “hello” when he came to Florida.

In San Diego Nishikori opens against Diego Hartfield, and tournament organizers are keeping their fingers crossed as a win would likely mean a second-round meeting against top seed Andy Roddick. Blake was overflowing with compliments for Nishikori after the Delray final, but don’t look for Roddick to be singing the teen’s praises. Like when he faced John Isner for the first time in the final at Washington last year, Roddick is all business when it comes to putting the beat-down on upstarts in first-time meetings.

Nishikori says he will have to reset his goals after the week in Delray.

“My goal was to win Challenger this year and I didn’t expect that,” Nishikori said. “I was so happy and when I get back to the academy, 20 guys was surprising me, and like a hundred of e-mail. I arrive like ten o’clock and they waiting and they gave me cake and gave me speech.”

Rocketing to No. 131 on the ATP Rankings, Japan’s newest top-ranked player says the win over Blake has given him the feeling he can beat anybody…even Roger Federer.

In fact, Nishikori let slip that last year in Miami at the Sony Ericsson Open, an event he played as a junior, he was Federer’s practice partner when he took a set off the Swiss.

“I was so nervous in the beginning but he was so nice, and we played a couple sets but I won. Yeah, but it was practice,” Nishikori said. “Yeah, that make me confident.”

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23 Comments for Nishikori Reveals Federer Set Win, Sizes-Up San Jose

josh Says:

Lets get a grip. Kid had one crazy week, has never done anything else. Still has ALOT to prove. He was practically playing in his home town in Delray beach.

Tokyo player Says:

“Let’s get a grip.” Ha! You don’t win an entire tournament on luck. He didn’t get lucky and win a few points, win a few games. Criticism–the unconscious tribute that mediocrity and stupidity pays to success.

It is effing difficult to win match after match after match in a row, then, under huge pressure, come up with match-point saving points. And then face who? James Blake? Good heavens.

Oh no, this kid has proved himself already.

Maybe a better way to put it is “he is young, and can he keep winning?” etc.

I hope so—very exciting to see someone from Japan win an ATP tourney!

rogers twin sister Says:

Jeez, the instant gratification crowd is demanding more juice! Let’s put things in perspective. This tournie is really the minor leagues, not “the show,” and to crown this kid the “Japanese Federer” is a bit much to swallow. Grow up! Let’s wait and see how he develops…or doesn’t.

Lilly Says:

from the match with Blake I`ve seen he is astonishingly quick and has quite a game. Hopefully we`ll se a lot of him in the future.

Iona Says:

I’ve never seen so much overreaction to a lucky week in my life. Get a grip, people.

deb Says:

For me the worst thing about the over reaction to this is that the only person likely to suffer is Nishikori himself. Increased expectations = increased pressure at a time when he has so little experience.

Hopefully those closest to him will have a better perspective on what was obviously a great tournament but one great tournament doesn’t make a great player.

Dr. Death Says:

This IS a compliment to Nishikori and his family who took the step to go to Florida. There is a lot of young talent in Japan’s tennis. The easy way for many is to stay in country where the system will take care of them nicely. This young man chose the harder path and ought to be admired for that.

I hope he has a few more successes even in the “minor leagues”. It will encourage others to follow.

Tokyo player Says:

I respectfully disagree with anyone who says that Nishikori had a “lucky” week.

He had to win three matches to qualify to get into the tournament.

He had to win five matches in the main draw to win the tournament.

He beat a top-ten player.

He came back and won in the semifinal after being down four match points.

Tennis is hugely mental. Yes, he’s got the physical game to win, but he showed great mental strength to win tough matches.

Von Says:

Nishikori earned his win. I am happy for this kid, who has come up the hard way and has proved himself worthy of his first ATP title. He’s one who was given an opportunity and has shown that hard work pays off.

Henry Says:

We were there all week and can’t believe the negativism of some of these posts about a breakthrough performance of a spectacular young player. Is that because there is so little to rave about in American tennis right now? Or is it plain envy because a long-hyped U.S. teenager like Donald Young who, despite being 6 months older than Nishikori, did not show the maturity of closing out a 5-1 lead in the first set of his first round match and again failed to convert a 4-1 and 6-3 lead in the tie-break of that same set and subsequently threw his racket out of the stadium…..after losing the set. Of course, with that attitude he also lost the match. Some even call Nishikori ‘lucky’. Nishikori had to fight to get into the main draw as opposed to Donald Young who got wild cards as of age 15 and made it into the top 500 of the pro circuit without winning one single match because of freebie first round points. Now THAT is lucky….!
Nishikori did not start playing great tennis just now. As a 14-year-old he was a Junior Orange Bowl finalist and was then groomed at the Bollettieri Academy. Problem with the US media is that they only start following players once they have made it and think they are dealing with a new discovery. That’s why nobody in this country had heard of Federer or Nadal until they won a major.. and that is also why the comments of those poor souls on this site are understandably negative… They just don’t know any better…
Nishikori is not like most juniors and if some of those that had negative comments would have seen him in action, playing 8 matches in 9 days and beating a top 10 player in the final, maybe they would be a little more respectful. Oooh, I forgot, maybe they’re just bad sports because the super talented kid beat an American in that final. A great American player that thinks the world of this rising star.
So, it’s you, the negative bunch, that needs to get real. Kei Nishikori is as real as can be and will be storming into the top 100 this year and into the top 20 the next! And I’m not Japanese, just someone who gets his facts in the field and not through biased or hype-creating media.

Von Says:

“Oooh, I forgot, maybe they’re just bad sports because the super talented kid beat an American in that final.”

Aren’t you being a little too critical of the US as being bad sports considering that this kid was helped by and trained at a US Academy? I won’t say we’re bad sports, I’d say we’re big hearted.

Henry Says:

Dear Von,

You were one of the positive people but obviously you did not read properly… I referred to those giving negative comments as bad sports. Not the US. America is a great place!

But for your info: Nishikori came to the US with Japanese money. Japanese money paid for his tennis at a top US Academy. Academies, in any country, are in the business of developing players and not in the business of patriotism. Look at all the Russian talents that flock to Spanish and US academies….

Tokyo player Says:

Hear hear, Henry! The kid’s a stud! To heck with the naysayers!

Von Says:

Hi Henry:

Forgive me for not reading carefully, you’re right. Anyway, I maybe mistaken, but I am positive I heard one of the announcers during the broadcast of the match state that Kei was helped by the Bolletieri Academy due to his parents’ inability to pay for his tennis coaching. I guess my ears and eyes are falling apart. :) Aside from the financial details, I think the kid has a great future and he’ll acquire some terrific sponsors.

Lulu Says:

Just passing by.

Von, that commentator on your broadcast is wrong. Kei was sent to the Bollettieri’s on a grant bestowed by Sony Chairman Masaaki Morita.

Dr. Death Says:

Thanks for that info, Lulu. The late chairman Morita-san’s support of youngsters in tennis does not get much coverage, but I recall a couple of Tokyo friends being involved in this program. This will encourage it on further.

Von Says:


Thanks for the information. Chairman Morita’s dollars have multiplied in many fulfilling ways. I admire people who help underprivileged kids. Their contributions swings a child’s future in the right direction making them good role models for younger children.

Dr. Death: Our Andy Roddick plays tonight in San Jose against Kei. This is a difficult choice for me, as I like them both. I support Andy in many ways. One, is his devotion to young underprivileged children through his foundation which he started at agae 17. Sir Elton John always remarks about Andy’s big heart and starting his foundation at age 17. Do you have a pick for the San Jose match tonight?

Henry Says:

Thanks Von,

you are truly a good sport and, of course, I ‘forgive’ you. As I already told you and Lulu further specified, with Japanese backing by the Sony people and the great team he has behind him at Bollettieri’s we will see this supertalent in many more great matches/finals.

Rock on Tokyo Player! I am a great fan of your wheelchair tennis players Shingo Kunieda and Satoshi Saida too. Shingo is the World No. 1. Wish media would pay a little more attention to that too. I know in Japan Shingo is like a Rock star and now Kei will be too and they both deserve that spotlight.

Von Says:


“Wish media would pay a little more attention to that too.”

I agree. Other handicapped people watching can find hope/upliftment from watching such a display of human beings rising above their inadequacies and channeling their mind/energy in a different direction raising them to greater heights and fulfilling lives.

rogers twin sister Says:

Henry: The hype surrounding Donald Young, Querrey, Isner et al is precisely why I say let’s wait and see how Nishikori progresses or doesn’t. It seems that we are becoming more childlike every day with constant demands for instant gratification in every sphere of our lives. I’m getting dizzy from the rush!

Instead of patiently waiting to see how someone progresses, we lavish amazing amounts of praise on people just for getting out of bed in the morning. Combined with instant gratification is the intellectual laziness that compels people to avoid doing any analysis whatsoever. The end result is that the object of our attention today becomes the object of our scorn tomorrow. In…out…in…out. I love you…I hate you…I love you…I hate you. She’s my sister…my mother…my sister…my mother.

Simmer down, people. Inhale deeply…exhale. Stop to smell the roses once in a blue moon. Most importantly…LEARN TO THINK!!!

Henry Says:

rogers twin sister:

I truly hope you are simply just trying to provoke a reaction. If not, you have to get help. Which sane person would make a tennisplayer “the object of our scorn”? I do understand why you use the word “childlike”, because it seems very hard for you to explain in a coherent way what really troubles you deep inside…

“compels people to avoid doing analysis”
What I wrote is based on very careful analysis. The players you mention still have to win their first ATP level title. Only very few players managed to win even what you call “minor league” ATP tournaments at that age. Not even Federer..
Maybe some serious self-analysis would help YOU, first of all to become a happier person and enjoy the success of others. I don’t even think you truly like tennis…

james Says:

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bob Says:

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