WATCH—Kei Nishikori gets a spot in the ATP Finals:
After shutting down his 2017 campaign in August due to a serious wrist injury, Kei Nishikori made his return to action in January at a Challenger event in Newport Beach, California.
The result? An opening-round loss to American Dennis Novikov, ranked 238 in the world.
Fast-forward almost 10 months later, and the 28-year-old from Japan will be back on familiar ground next week at the O2 Arena in London for the ATP Finals.
It’s clear that current world No. 1 Novak Djokovic isn’t the only player to lay claim to the concept of the “near-improbable comeback.”
After that season-opening defeat, Nishikori made a quick recovery by taking the title the next week at a Challenger tournament in Dallas. He defeated Novikov in straight sets in the first round, and only lost one set all week to claim the championship. Building upon that result, Nishikori made his return to the main tour at the New York Open, which replaced the long-running indoor event in Memphis, where he was a four-time champion. He didn’t miss a beat in the transition between venues as he advanced to the semifinals, his first final-four showing at a main-draw ATP event in six months.
Nishikori’s next two tournaments on hard courts were disappointing, but as he’s shown over the course of the past several years, he’s among the best in the world when it comes to clay. In his first event of the season on the dirt, and ranked outside of the Top 30, Nishikori advanced to the final in Monte Carlo with wins over Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev—both ranked in the Top 4—before falling to Rafael Nadal.
That run brought him back to No. 22 in the world, and his ranking yo-yoed up and down through the 20s from there until the US Open. Along the way, Nishikori reached the round of 16 at the French Open and the quarterfinals of Wimbledon for the first time.
In New York, the 2014 finalist exacted revenge upon Cilic—who beat him in that championship bout back then—in the quarterfinals before Djokovic halted his run.
Nishikori’s first semifinal at a major in two years put him within striking distance of the top eight to qualify for the season-ending championships. With a slew of players ranked ahead of him, Nishikori did his part to enhance his chances of making the tournament for the fourth time in his career.
A semifinal appearance in Metz, France, was followed by a runner-up finish at the Japan Open, where he lost to young Russian Daniil Medvedev. At the Shanghai Masters, Roger Federer halted his progress in the quarterfinals. However, a pattern appeared to be established as Nishikori followed that loss up with another final—his third of the year—in Vienna, Austria, where Kevin Anderson topped him.
After finishing up the regular season with a quarterfinal run at the Paris Masters, Nishikori moved into the London field with the expected withdrawal of Juan Martin del Potro, who injured his leg in Shanghai.
Like the Argentine, Nishikori has dealt with a number of medical issues over the course of his career, which has hindered his progress. But he’s been healthy for a good portion of this year and in London, he’ll be looking to end his personal title drought: Nishikori’s dropped his last nine finals since winning in Memphis two years ago.
In the round-robin portion of the finals, he’ll be grouped with Dominic Thiem, Federer and Anderson. Nishikori has a combined 8-4 record against Thiem and Anderson, while he’s 2-7 against Federer.
A strong showing isn’t outside the realm of possibility for the best male player in Japan’s history. Considering how far he’s come this year, the season is already a success and the potential for more is only a few matches away.
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