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« San Jose: Easy Does It for Querrey San Jose: Stay out of Stepanek's Kitchen »
San Jose: Oh Kei
Posted 02/22/2008 @ 2 :19 AM

2008_02_21_nishikori_blog Things will be a lot quieter around here now that the Kei-train has rumbled to a stop against Andy Roddick in the second round of San Jose. It wasn't a stellar performance, capped by two wild errors to get broken in the final game, but he was playing his ninth match in two weeks. And he still managed to impress Roddick.

While he remained in the tournament, the number of Japanese TV and print reporters here had been growing exponentially by the day. Several more appeared today, bearing all the signs of recent arrival -- like taking jet-lagged naps precariously perched on the folding chairs.

Their job has been to get reaction on Nishikori from someone -- anyone. One obvious place to start was James Blake, his victim in the Delray Beach final. "I feel like Kei played great," said Blake. "I played a little passive and he took advantage, which is very impressive -- for a kid to be that poised."

Querrey fell to the teenager in the semifinals after holding four match points. "He's a great player. That was a great match -- 9-7 in the third-set tiebreaker," said Querrey. "Obviously, he beat James in a final so the kid can play. He hits the ball so clean. I think he'll do well -- I mean, he's already doing well."

Roddick after his : "I was very impressed. He can change direction, hits the ball pretty good, he was hitting winners off returns... I think he's going to be a player."

How about someone random? So Radek Stepanek, what do you think of Kei? "I'm practicing in Bradenton a lot... and I was hitting with him a lot. He just proved that he is a very good player and he has a future ahead of him. Even now in November, December I saw him working very hard in the academy and all the hard work is paying off for him.

"He's moving very well, he's operating well with his serves -- very deep and dangerous -- but I think he's operating more with his forehand."

The early scouting report pins his strength as his groundstrokes (especially the forehand) and his movement (though he was sluggish in his first-round match against Diego Hartfield, admitting he was tired after his run from qualifying to the title in Delray Beach last week). The serve appears to need some work, but he's got a one-handed slice in addition to his normal two-handed backhand, and will look to get  to net once in a rare while.

He moved to the United States four years ago to starting training at Bollettieri's, thanks to a fund set up by the CEO of Sony. But he's still quite hesitant in English -- not one of the Americanized teens that the academy is so famous for cranking out. "The first year was difficult because I couldn't speak anything. I was afraid of everyone, the Americans. Now it's okay," he said.

But given that this remark is one of the longest speeches he's made since he was thrust into the spotlight, there's not much scope for getting him to tell his own tale.

And the soundbites from other players are all very well, but they don't go into much detail. So if you want the full, detailed breakdown -- go to the coach. At least six or seven people from Bollettieri and IMG have input into Nishikori's career, but his travelling coach is former pro Glenn Weiner. Here's Weiner's take on his charge:

His strengths

Never underestimate speed. His speed is just amazing. I was just talking to the guy he played today and he was saying that it's amazing how he's able to get to the ball and do somethign with it when you think you've hit a good shot.

You hit an aggressive shot and not only is he able to get there, he's able to either play defence to so well that it leads to offence, or go straight to offence.

His groundstrokes are very powerful. He hits the ball very deep and the ball comes off very lively. He's got a huge forehand, a huge weapon. If he's on with that, you're in trouble. So he puts pressure on you to hit a good shot and at the same time he puts a lot of pressure on you to have to play good defence.

The one-handed backhand slice option

You want to have it there, you want to have it there and teach it because everyone can hit the ball, and you want to be able to change the pace. With the slice, it usually forces the guy to hit the ball up a little more, which then gives you a chance to hit an aggressive shot.

You can't just hit every ball the same, or the other guy gets used to it.

His Serve

It's a work in progress. It's not a huge thing, but it doesn't hurt him as much as people think, as much as the stats go. We are going to work on the serve, on varying it up on the second especially, get more out of it. The one thing he's able to do really well, he's able to take a good return and put it in a spot where he'll eventually be able to take over the point. But, yeah, working on getting more free points and keeping himself out of trouble.

Both Nishikori and Weiner think a top 50 ranking is achievable this year. He doesn't have many points to defend, but does have to watch the status of a back injury that kept him off the tour for some of last year.

His win in Delray Beach caught even his team by surprise, and schedule recalculations are underway. Instead of playing challengers in the United States after Davis Cup in April, he'll head over to Europe to play on clay.

Guess his media circus will have to start changing their reservations too.

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Lets hope we see more of him...its a pity he had to run into Roddick so soon ...

...i saw Kei play in Los Angeles last summer and somehow i just knew, this boy had it, such a hard hitter and such quick hands, and he moves so well, and so good looking too, so i filed his name away, anyways it's nice to be proven right for once...

With Kei cracking the Top 150 and saying that clay is his favorite surface, he does need to play in Europe during clay season and see how his game develop. Also, he will not be fixated on HC if he played Challengers after DC.

OKei indeed!

Kamakshi, thanks for doing this piece on Nishikori. At last! Somebody new and MALE to keep Hyung-Taik Lee company in the top 100, hopefully soon.

Love your titles, KT. Again nice piece on a fairly unknown player till very recently.

Watching Nishikori yesterday, I kept thinking that he had the potential to become a fantastic claycourt player. His forehand has a combination of power and spin reminiscent of Nadal's, and his comparatively weak serve won't be so much of a liability on clay.

He sounds like a young Leyton Hewitt or Michael Chang type player

He sounds like a young Leyton Hewitt or Michael Chang type player

I turned on my TV last weekend prepared to see the Yanks dukking it out in DelRey and instead I find Kei there, I found myself rooting for him, great game and so much poise. And to hear he actually is looking forward to the clay, most impressive. He'll have a good game for the clay too. Definitely one of the bright spots in this year so far, I am a fan already. At least he got thru his first round in San Joser, but normally after a week like he had last week it's pretty usual the guy takes a hike early in his next event.

He gave us the shot of the week too: that little fake FH dropshot against Blake, then he SLICES a FH drive up the line instead! Smart stuff! Go Kai! We'll all tolerate all the tennis events moving over to Asia a lot better if we have guys like this to watch and make it all worthwhile.

Bring that clay-court Kei over to my territory - Roland Garros.

go, kei!

Thanks very much for the Kei-lific profile!

on a different note, Andy Roddick has an interesting, engaging personality, but does he have to be such a jerk during competition?

karma would have Federer barking like a dog at Andy the next time Roger wipes Roddick off the court.

once again, thanks for the profile, it's always great to learn more about the lesser known players on tour.

Barry--Roddick said he was trying to get into Nishikori's head, 'give him something else to think about apart from how great he's been playing.'

Not defending it, just explaining it...


Why does Andy Roddick have to act like such a jerk on the court to a nice young kid who is trying to make it in the tennis world?

The kid goes from a qualifying to a championship win, featuring wins over Sam Querry (in which he saved 4 match points) and James Blake. I watched both of those matches, and it looks like he's going to become really good.

Roddick is not the only player who airs his frustration. This kid said he felt he could "beat anyone", and. considering Kei beat Blake just a week ago, I suppose Roddick felt he needed to be assertive. What Roddick did was 'disarm' his opponent.

Remember 2001, when Roddick was the happy-go-lucky kid with a cannon serve and an infectious love of the game? I think constantly coming up short against Fed has adversely affected his demeanor. Also, hiring Connors as a coach hasn't made much of any palpable long-term improvements to his game, but has serve to make him more unpleasant in his on-court demeanor.

There's still a lot to like about him, but in his match against Kei it was as though he were going out of his way to give him critics more ammunition.

All top players should serve as an ambassador to the game and to their country. Roddick should let his racket do the talking instead of his big mouth. With the whole of the Japanese nation suddenly having a keen interest in their up and coming young star, what he did was rude and very un-sportsmanship. His comment about what he said afterwards " ..I don’t need any young friends” just shows his arrogance. Maybe he don’t need any new fans either. Hats off to Nishikori for keeping his cool on taking the comment and playing down the incident at the press conference. Nishikori may be 18 but he shows he got the maturity to be a champion.

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