Next Monday, Kei Nishikori’s ranking will drop three places from #4 to #7. The Japanese megastar has had a rough start to 2017, which has seen him plagued by injuries and dip in form. It is early in the season, but should we start worrying about Kei Nishikori?
This time last year the Japanese player was enjoying expected success from a man of his pure talent. Coming off the back of an unprecedented fourth consecutive Memphis Open title, Nishikori transferred this form into Miami. The quarterfinal opponent for Nishikori was a rejuvenated Gael Monfils. The Japanese player outlasted Monfils in one of the matches of the year. He saved match points in a match that lasted a staggering two hours and twenty-nine minutes. Things did not get any easier for Nishikori. Next up for him would be the mercurial talent that is Nick Kyrgios. Nishikori blunted Kyrgios’ weapons and marched onto the final in two straight sets. The positive tournament would end in final defeat to the utterly dominant Novak Djokovic, but the former US Open runner-up showed his quality that we all come to expect with him.
We Should Worry
Fast forward 12 months and the years are quite contrasting. Nishikori will go into the European clay court season without a title to his name. In fact, his last title came in that Memphis final mentioned earlier, over a year ago. He has lost six finals in a row since then in Miami, Barcelona, Montreal, Basel, Brisbane, and Buenos Aires. Has Kei Nishikori lost his nerve in the big moments? The list of consecutive losing finals is worrying and a player of his quality should be winning two titles a year a least.
The year as a whole has not been a great one for Kei Nishikori. After a promising week in Brisbane where he was beaten by Grigor Dimitrov in the final, he was given a tough draw for the first Grand Slam of the year. In only the fourth round he lost in an epic five set match to eventual champion Roger Federer. A surprising change in schedule saw Nishikori battle it out on the clay courts of the South American golden swing. That tournament concluded with a shocking defeat in the final to world #66 Alexandr Dolgopolov. The confidence canister would take another critical hit as he tumbled out in the first round of the Rio Open to Thomaz Bellucci. Now there were real signs of vulnerability in the Nishikori game. Those hoped he would find his form in the hard courts of North America.
Kei Nishikori travelled to Indian Wells in hope he would produce his best tennis. Again a surprising loss hit the Japanese player’s year, this time to Jack Sock in the quarter finals. Miami did not go any better either as he was stopped at the exact same stage. In his last three matches Kei Nishikori was extended to three sets against players he should be beating rather convincingly. It was third time unlucky as the brilliance of Fabio Fognini blended with the fitness of Kei Nishikori to inflict a sixth loss of the year on the struggling Japanese player.
Injuries have always been a major problem for Nishikori and his old demons returned to him in Miami. A frustrating wrist injury seriously hampered him in his match against Fognini. Perhaps we will see the cycle continue and see Nishikori recover from his injury and dazzle the tennis world yet again. However, an injury on his playing hand is a very dangerous injury for a tennis player to suffer from. The severity is not yet confirmed. Tennis fans around the world vividly remember seeing Juan Martin del Potro suffer a lengthy lay off as a result of a dominant hand wrist injury. Could the same happen to Kei Nishikori? It is very unlikely but nevertheless an injury of any kind is not positive.
We Should Not Worry
It was not that long ago that we saw Nishikori defeat Rafael Nadal to win a bronze medal for his country at the Olympic Games. It was even more recently that we saw the Japanese superstar win a classic US Open match against Andy Murray. That was a match that many people expected the Brit to claim without much trouble. You can never count Kei Nishikori out. Had he not suffered from a nightmare draw at the Australian Open maybe the tournament would have turned out differently for him. Moreover, we all know that Kei can produce moments of absolute brilliance and do it on the biggest of stages against the best players in the world.
Many players suffer from lulls in form so maybe it is natural for Nishikori to experience this. Roger Federer in 2013 and Milos Raonic in 2015 suffered difficult years. In both years they suffered a dip in form and were plagued by injuries. Those two years are similar to what the Japanese player is suffering thus far in 2017. This so called ‘dip in form’ has only occurred in the last three months which is not in comparison to the entire year that Federer and Raonic experienced. We could all go and see Nishikori display his very best tennis in the clay court season and perhaps win a maiden masters title and potentially go deep into the French Open.
Another reason for us not to worry on the situation on Kei Nishikori is that he is experienced when it comes to dealing with injury. Not only that, he is able to regain his level that he played at before those injuries. When he retired to Marin Cilic in the fourth round of Wimbledon last year, many people were concerned. However, Nishikori recovered from this and went on to enjoy spectacular results in the summer. He made the final of the masters event in Toronto, he followed this up with a bronze medal and then maintained his form to make the US Open semi finals. There is no doubt he can do this again and surprise us.
No one knows the answer with Kei Nishikori at the moment. It could turn out to be a horror season for him or a spectacular season for him. What we do know is that he is an extremely talented tennis player, he is able to bounce back from injuries and he is a fighter. We will next see the Japanese superstar in Barcelona where he is a two-time champion. Then we will see where his game is truly at and then raise the question.
Should we start worrying about Kei Nishikori?