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The Story Behind Kei Nishikori’s Comeback

Kei Nishikori simply couldn’t catch a break.

After sitting out the 2022 season following hip surgical procedure, the Japanese star was in Bradenton, Florida working exhausting on the finish of the 12 months to be prepared for a return at the beginning of 2023. That’s when a seemingly minor ankle sprain spiralled into one thing rather more critical.

“After eight or 9 months of rehab after the hip surgical procedure I used to be nearly prepared to return again once I sprained my ankle,” Nishikori advised Tuesday on the Atlanta Open. “It turned out to be difficult and far worse than what I first noticed. That set me again one other 4 or 5 months.

“A couple of times I nearly thought [about retiring]. It was mentally surprising to be so shut after which to have a second damage. I wasn’t certain if I may come again from that. In order that was the hardest time.”

Little surprise then that Nishikori’s first tour-level win (over Jordan Thompson Tuesday within the first spherical of the Atlanta Open) since Indian Wells in October 2021 was an emotional expertise.

“It was very emotional after the whole lot that it took to get again,” he mentioned after the 7-6(5), 7-6(5) victory in two hours and 25 minutes within the warmth. “I’m simply so blissful to be again right here taking part in. I’ve zero strain and may play free. I’m simply having enjoyable on the court docket. And I’m excited to be taking part in in opposition to the highest guys once more.

“I’ve had an excellent crew round me and I’m very grateful that Max and Michael saved encouraging me. They nonetheless consider in me and I consider it too.”

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Max Mirnyi, a part of Nishikori’s teaching crew with Michael Chang, has been on the 33-year-old’s aspect in the course of the robust moments and was readily available Tuesday in Atlanta for the comeback win.

“He by no means overpassed the sunshine on the finish of the tunnel. It may be gruelling and hard to remain motivated, however he was by no means unsure and saved on working,” mentioned Mirnyi, who performed 486 singles matches and 1125 doubles matches throughout his profession. “He all the time noticed that this was a risk. He was very skilled all through this time and to see him again and competing on the Tour is nice.”

Former World No. 4 Nishikori, who finds himself at No. 439 within the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, started his comeback in mid-June in Puerto Rico on the ATP Challenger Tour. He was trying to find matches to get some rhythm and construct confidence. The choice to start out within the minor leagues paid instant dividends as he gained the title for the lack of only one set. He then bought one other 5 matches below his belt at Challengers in Bloomfield Hills, MI, and Chicago earlier than heading to Atlanta.

Kei Nishikori in action at the Chicago Challenger.
Kei Nishikori in motion on the Chicago Challenger. Picture: Daniel Westhoff

“I used to be simply anticipating to play one match, perhaps two, however with every match I performed higher and began feeling the boldness,” Nishikori mentioned of his Challenger Tour run. “I began getting the sensation of being again taking part in matches, feeling the nerves. I used to be very blissful to win a title in my first event again after which I misplaced to a few good gamers after that. I wasn’t too unhappy about it. I used to be simply excited to be taking part in.”

Nishikori determined to have hip surgical procedure in February 2022 to keep away from the destiny of Bob Bryan and Andy Murray, who’re each sporting metallic hips. The previous US Open finalist had comparable surgical procedure at an identical time to James Duckworth, though the Australian made it again on Tour just some months later in Might.

“My hip was not too unhealthy, not like Andy,” Nishikori mentioned. “We shaved some bone away and likewise I had just a little little bit of a tear within the labrum. Had I saved taking part in with out the surgical procedure then I could have needed to do one thing like Andy did. However thankfully, I discovered earlier than it bought actually unhealthy.

“I talked to James Duckworth, who had the identical surgical procedure and I used to be actually stunned how rapidly he got here again to taking part in. However he advised me that he had some points, so maybe he got here again too early. I made a decision to take just a little extra time.

“One among my largest doubts was whether or not I might be capable of transfer like I used to. And likewise that you just lose the sensation for the ball on the racquet and you’ve got zero confidence. You’ve bought to construct once more from zero, so it’s a tricky psychological problem.”

If his physique cooperates, Nishikori says that he has the starvation to play for a number of extra years. One motivating issue is to compete in opposition to the sport’s new faces who’ve climbed into the Prime 10 throughout his absence.

“One factor I hope to get the prospect to do is to play in opposition to these nice younger gamers like Alcaraz, Rune and Sinner in some unspecified time in the future,” he mentioned. “That’s a part of my motivation to attempt to play for just a few extra years.

“I don’t assume we’ve seen anybody like Alcaraz earlier than. He seems like Rafa however he has extra pace. Good defence, unbelievable forehand and he has an excellent backhand too.”

Mirnyi, affectionately generally known as ‘The Beast’, mentioned that Crew Nishikori is happy with the progress, however is in no rush to set lofty targets for the rest of this 12 months and subsequent.

“There was a whole lot of persistence concerned and it is nice to see him again taking part in on the Tour stage,” Mirnyi mentioned. “He might not be again to his greatest but however most significantly he’s wholesome. Together with the Challengers, he is been again for 3 or 4 weeks and he’s feeling robust and his physique is permitting him to play a tricky match just like the one he simply performed right this moment.”

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from Tennis – ATP World Tour



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