Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.

Twelve months ago, we wondered in this same space whether 2016 was a make-or-break season for Kei Nishikori. It turned out to be neither; instead, the 26-year-old native of Japan and resident of Bradenton, Fla., held his ground and made some hard-earned, if unspectacular, progress.

In the past, Nishikori struggled to replicate his success at mid-level tournaments on the game’s bigger stages. From that perspective, 2016 was a modest triumph. While he won just one tournament (down from three titles in 2015 and four in 2014), Nishikori was better at the Slams and Masters events. He reached at least the fourth round at all four majors for the first time, made the finals in Miami and Toronto and the semis in Madrid, Rome and London, and won a bronze medal at the Olympics. Who knows what he might have accomplished if it hadn’t been for Novak Djokovic? Nishikori was 0-6 against the Serb.


At first glance, Nishikori would appear to be right where he wants to be at 26. He can look at players like Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils and believe that his best days are ahead of him. Losing to Djokovic over and over is hardly cause for shame. On second glance, though, Nishikori’s inability to win any tournament bigger than Memphis in 2016 is worrying. As a slightly undersized player with a slightly undersized serve, Nishikori has trouble winning with the quickness and efficiency that you need to go all the way at tournaments, and struggles to stay healthy over the course of a season. More important than his body, though, is Nishikori’s mind: Does he see himself as a major champion? So far the answer seems to be no, and that will need to change if he’s ever going to win one.