Kei Nishikori is accustomed to facing the best players on the tennis court, but there is one man who makes him more nervous than all the rest.
The Japanese sensation revealed that every time he steps foot on the court with Rafael Nadal, his “body starts shaking” as he knows he will have to be at his very best in order to stand a chance of winning.
The world number five added that Nadal’s style of play is very different to the other players on the circuit and as a result, he has to alter his game plan whenever he faces the Spaniard.
“It happens every time I play Nadal. He is the kind of opponent I cannot win unless I play aggressive,” Nishikori told Japanese website Nikkei. “I know that if I play against him without taking risks, I will lose 100%. There is a pressure that I have to finish and win when I’m leading in the match.
“I think that’s why my body starts shaking. He is such a fighter and never gives up. He hits balls with “super” topspins, so I have to come inside (the baseline) in order to hit well. His play style is unique. I usually can hit back fine if I have the right racket face angle, but with Nadal, I have to hit through otherwise the ball goes to somewhere.”
— Kei Nishikori (@keinishikori) December 21, 2016
Meanwhile, Nishikori also said that he is hoping for an injury-free season next year for the first time in his career.
The Matsue native has suffered from injuries each year and in 2016, it was a glute muscle injury at the Japan Open that proved to be a problem for the 26-year-old.
“That's my issue every year,” he conceded. “'I need to play more consistently during a match in order to increase my concentration. There are still many shots I need to improve technically, so if I have to say, (everything) is going to be something I need to work on. If I can be more stronger mentally, I can beat top players. I need to play much, much stronger tennis.
“'Even Murray and Djokovic cannot play at maximum level throughout the year. But they still make it to semi-finals and finals all the time and that’s why they are at the top of the world. It’s about not only recovering physically but also how you can stay fresh mentally facing each match.
“How you do not think too much of the matches and how you pump yourself up before the match but be relaxed once you are back to the hotel. It’s very important to switch on and off like that.”
Nishikori enjoyed a great deal of success last season and reached the final of several tournaments, winning the ATP Memphis Open, but there is one match that stands out above all for the Japanese star this year.
That game was his gruelling five-set victory over current world number one Andy Murray in the quarter-finals of the US Open.
“Against Andy Murray at the US Open,” Nishikori said when asked about his best performance of the year. “I also had many matches I came back from match points down this year. It’s interesting how big one point can be, like how one point can shift the momentum and change the outcome of the match. It was only a matter of a few centimeters when I made or missed the shot to win that one point.”