Kei Nishikori is making up for his layoff. The 31-year-old plans to play a packed schedule at the beginning of this season and asserts that if healthy, he will begin to climb up the rankings again.
A finalist at the 2014 US Open, Nishikori has been frequently injured during his career, playing just four events in 2020 after returning from elbow surgery and recovering from COVID-19.
But the former world No. 4 from Japan has organized a heavier schedule at the beginning of this season—though he canceled a scheduled start in Delray Beach. He has signed up for the ATP Cup and the Australian Open, followed by a swing of events in Rotterdam, Marseille, Dubai and Miami.
Still, he isn't putting a lot of pressure on himself at the start of his latest comeback.
“I know it will need time to be back in Top 10. It took a half year to feel like I was at my best after [the] wrist injury,” Nishikori told Nikkan Sports. “Top 20 players are stronger than five years ago, sometimes I feel even the Top 100 is tough, so it's not easy, but I believe I'll be back in top 10 if I can play normally."
While away from the tour, the world No. 41 has also been working on his game and added Max Mirnyi to his team. He also tied the knot with his girlfriend, model Mai Yamauchi, during the off-season.
Nishikori, whose backhand and foot speed are among the best in the game, is aiming to play the right mixture of offense and defense. And he knows who to look to in each category—Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who he has played a combined 29 times (2-16 against Djokovic, 3-8 versus Federer).
''Playing rock-solid like Djokovic, I can't get the most of my game, while I can't play very aggressively like Federer. So I have a goal to try to play in between them," he said. "I'm trying to win more points at the net, not just come to the net more frequently."
Winning his first ATP tournament as a teenager, Nishikori has accumulated 12 titles in his career, ranging from Tokyo, Brisbane, Barcelona and Memphis. But the recent interruptions in the schedule have left him eager to get back to playing again.
"My motivation for tennis has been increasing every year," he said. "I'm more and more motivated to be stronger for some reason. I couldn't play lots of matches last year, so I have a strong desire to play matches, win, win tournaments, and win the Grand Slams.”
Nishikori will be the top player for Japan in the ATP Cup, scheduled the week before the Australian Open.