Kei Nishikori - an Asian sensation of the tennis world. Among his achievements include being the first Asian man to reach a grand slam final, and being the first Asian man to win more than 10 ATP titles - at the time of this writing he has 11 of such. Given such achievements, he is no doubt known as a man of excellence across the world. What are the qualities which make him reach such heights? We thought about it today during our lunch break, and here are three of such qualities we believe he contains which has helped him in this regard.
An old coach of our intern Roger So once told him that tennis is 80% footwork. Apart from the number, the assumption conveyed by this remark cannot be more true. It is for this reason that the best players in the game are the best movers. Nishikori could be counted as among the best - in fact we feel that he is equal to Djokovic in standards on this front. Although not the most efficient mover (look at the amount of side-steps which he has to take for each move), he gets the work done faster than most. He is able to get himself in positions ideal or near ideal most of the time, giving him many opportunities to throw punishing shots at his opponents. In a sense, he reminds of Diego Schwartzman, who makes up for his lack of size with a frightening speed.
Nishikori is incredibly precise for someone who uses a semi-western forehand grip. This is due to the technique of his rather mechanical forehand. He hits his forehand almost completely horizontally across his body, with contact point further in front slightly (yet significantly) more than most people using the same grip. He gives him a sense of linear control with regards to where the ball is going, something that Federer also enjoys. On the backhand side, the small back-swing is what gives Nishikori the sense of linear control, although one that is not as strong as felt on the forehand side. All this means that Kei's opponents would always have to watch out for winners, which would come out of no where more probably than most other players.
Nishikori is patient, in that he does not go into a definable mode of play (for etc. going on the offensive, being on the defensive), but remains completely neutral unless absolutely necessary. Or maybe he just appears to be such. This makes his game hard to read, and his moves unpredictable. As such, he is arguably the highest master of deception among the top-ranked ATP players. People often associate Murray with such deceptiveness, but we beg to differ. Murray rotates between a mode of defense and a mode of offense, Nishikori's neutral mode cannot be classified under either.
All in all, each of these three qualities cannot be isolated from each other, because they complement the other two to deadly effect. For example, Nishikori's deceptiveness no doubt increased the shock felt by the receiving end of Nishikori's precise attacking shots. Before executing such, he would need to be in proper position, which his movement would have to be depended on for.
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