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:
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.
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.