I like this headline.
Nishikori a smiling assassin
January 5th, 2011
Kei Nishikori has gatecrashed Marin Cilic’s party. The 21-year-old Japanese stormed into the elite list of Chennai Open tennis tournament by packing off two-time defending champion in the opener on Monday.
Despite a big scalp, Nishikori is not thinking too far on his maiden trip to Chennai. “Frankly, I haven’t thought beyond Cilic. I didn’t see the draw at all. But I’m not taking any match lightly as they are going to come at me hard. My aim is to get as many matches as possible before the Australian Open,” said the smiling assassin.
Born to an engineer father and a piano teacher, Nishikori picked up a racquet at a tender age of five. When he turned 13, his parents sent him to pursue his dream at Florida’s Nick Bollettieri Academy, the factory that churned out the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova et al.
Nishikori said his decision to shift to the US not only helped him realise his potential, it also improved his personality and communication. “I played tennis all the time — alongside around 800 other children — and although it was hard work, the top players that train at the academy really showed me just how hard I needed to work to become a professional player,” said the humble youngster.
Nishikori made his ATP debut at Los Angeles in July 2007 and advanced to his maiden quarterfinal at Indianapolis the following week. He finished the year with a 3-5 record and was ranked No. 286.
In 2008, Nishikori became the youngest player in the top-100, courtesy his triumph against all odds at the Delray Beach (US). He also became the first Asian to win the ATP Newcomer Of the Year Award in 2008. His meteoric caused ripples in Japan where the tennis interest had dwindled after the country’s first champion Shuzo Matsuoka retired in 1998. Matsuoka was ranked as high as 46.
Nishikori then announced the ‘Project 45’. “I always wanted to surpass Matsuoka. I was on course until an elbow injury came as a stumbling block in February 2009. I had to withdraw from three grand slams. I spent the following year doing some catch-up and was happy to end the year in top-100 again,” he said.
The amicable Japanese recently took ace coach Brad Gilbert on board. The American, who has shaped the games of Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, will work as a consultant and travel with Nishikori on the Tour starting from Australian Open. Nishikori is excited to work with Gilbert. “I met Gilbert last December before spending four days training at his home. I know training under a big name adds pressure on me. People are going to expect a lot from me. He is a master tactician and I am sure my game will flourish further,” added Nishikori.
And another one:
Nishikori knocks out defending champ Cilic from Chennai Open
Posted by Sonali Patel on Monday, January 3, 2011
Labels: Sports News
Don't go by Kei Nishikori’s slight build and smiling face. On Monday, the 21- year- old Japanese star played the role of ‘ Terminator’ to perfection as he rocked the Chennai Open by ousting second seed Marin Cilic 4-6, 7-6 (7/0), 6-2 in the first round.
Just before the match, Nishikori was running outside the centre court and gently warming up. Even at 5pm, when play should have begun, he was outside and running short steps. Little did people know that in a matter of hours, Nishikori would be running and sliding on court to demolish the tournament favourite from Croatia in a match where the Chennai fans cheered lustily for the underdog.
Nishikori was almost apologetic after the match. “ I know it’s bad for the tournament that Cilic lost but there’s nothing I can do about it,” said Nishikori.
To be sure, Nishikori has been gearing up for this event in the right way. A new trainer, a new coach and new clothes, things worked out well for him. But then, for someone who has the resources to afford a coach like Brad Gilbert, this was kind of expected. Agreed, Nishikori beat the same opponent at the US Open. But tonight it was more about serving better and playing smart which helped Nishikori pull it off.
Japan has never produced tennis players in an assembly line fashion like their famous cars. Perhaps, after Shuzo Matsuoka and Takao Suzuki, Nishikori is the one to watch for. As one who had plummeted to a career- low 420 rank at the end of 2009, he has cranked himself up well. Last year, he jumped 322 spots on the ATP computer to finish at 98 on the ATP computer. Nishikori is a typical Nick Bolletterrei Tennis Academy product.
Good serves, a solid forehand and consistency has worked well for him. Tonight, he whipped up the action with a smarter first serve percentage and added a smooth backhand as he destroyed Cilic’s dream of making it a hat- trick of Chennai Open titles.
The 5- 5 game in the second set was long and that’s where momentum swung Nishikori’s way. “ I think I played well there and there was no problem for me in the tie- break,” he said. But the Japanese star is not looking too far ahead. “ I was not looking beyond Cilic in the draw,” said Nishikori. “ I was in fact surprised so many people were backing me, like the US Open.” Surprisingly, the opponent then, too, was Cilic.
Talking about the decision to hire Gilbert, Nishikori said it all happened at the IMG academy in Florida last December. “ I played with Brad and after that we trained together for a few days at my home ( in the US). He will join me in Adelaide next,” said Nishikori, who wants to be back in the top 50 rankings.
From the Indian point of view there was disappointment as Robin Haase and David Martin beat Somdev Devvarman and Sanam Singh 5- 7, 6- 2 and 10- 8 ( super tie- breaker) in doubles first round. On a day when Cilic struggled for rhythm, it was clear the pressure was on him as the favourite. However, he did not attribute that to the defeat.
Cilic said: “ The first two sets were close and I didn’t win any point in the tie- break. Nishikori deserved to win.” “ Yes, I am a little bit disappointed I lost,” added Cilic.
On the outside courts, results in singles were on predictable lines. Robert Kendrick from California beat Denis Gremelmayr from Germany 7- 6, 6- 4 to enter the second round. The highlight of the match was Kendrick’s first serve percentage of 69. Another regular visitor to Chennai, Bjorn Phau from Germany was too good for Italian Simone Bolelli as he won 6- 2, 6- 2 in the first round.