Ten months ago, Kei Nishikori couldn’t have imagined he’d be where he is today. The Japanese right-hander started his year in late January in Newport Beach at an ATP Challenger Tour event. And he lost, to No. 238 Dennis Novikov of the U.S., 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
But now, Nishikori, who beat #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday to start his Erste Bank Open 500 in Vienna, could end his season among the top eight players in the world at the Nitto ATP Finals.
“It wasn’t easy to imagine but now, the last couple of months especially, I’ve been playing really well and have a lot of confidence. I’m happy to be back at this level,” Nishikori told ATPWorldTour.com.
The 28-year-old is currently in 10th position in the ATP Race To London, with just three spots remaining at the season-ending tournament, to be held 11-18 November at The O2 in London.
Nishikori has 3,000 Race points, 65 behind ninth-placed John Isner (3,065), who, at age 33, is trying to make his London debut. Isner also advanced on Tuesday in Vienna, saving two match points to beat Brit Cameron Norrie.
Read & Watch: London Contenders Nishikori, Isner Advance In Vienna
For Nishikori, it has been a relatively quick climb back to the top of the ATP World Tour. He underwent surgery on his right wrist last August and missed the final three months of the season.
In the off-season, he tweaked his service motion so it relied less on his wrist. “I had to try to not use it too much… We discussed it with my coaches, and we changed some things. It’s a better movement, a better swing and I think it’s going well,” he said.
But after his opening loss in Newport Beach, Nishikori won five consecutive matches to take the title at The RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas, also an ATP Challenger Tour event. Two weeks later, he was back in the hunt for ATP World Tour titles, making the semi-finals at the New York Open (l. to eventual titlist Anderson).
Watch Highlights: Nishikori Beats Tiafoe In Vienna
“I think I was going slowly at first. I was really struggling to play, and I didn’t feel the rhythm… I didn’t have any confidence so it took a little while to come back to 100 per cent… Now I think I’m back,” Nishikori said.
This week is his first at the ATP World Tour 500-level event in Vienna. But so far, on and off the court, Nishikori has enjoyed his time in the Austrian city. On Monday, he, along with Kevin Anderson, Lucas Pouille and Philipp Kohlschreiber, visited the Vienna State Opera.
“It was beautiful, one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. I’ve never seen an opera house before,” Nishikori said.
His mother is a piano teacher, but Nishikori confirmed, the family’s musical talents have not yet extended to singing, although a member of Nishikori’s coaching staff is apparently an excellent singer.
“We don’t sing too much. I think coach Michael [Chang] is very good at singing. I’ve heard before. He’s very good,” Nishikori joked. “I always wanted to come here to visit, and it’s fun to play different tournaments. I’ve heard Vienna is a great city. I’ve seen many great buildings and many beautiful things here in the city. I’ve been liking it.”