Dubai: Tennis fans are in for a treat when Kei Nishikori makes his long overdue debut at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in just over a week’s time.
The Japanese No. 1, who last September at the US Open celebrated alongside Naomi Osaka becoming the first Japanese pair to reach the semi-finals of the same Grand Slam, has been in great form in recent weeks.
Last month he defeated Daniil Medvedev in the Brisbane final and then advanced all the way to the Australian Open quarter-finals before having to retire injured against eventual champion Novak Djokovic.
His Brisbane triumph marked the first time in nearly three years that he had captured a title, at the same time avenging a loss to the same opponent in last year’s Tokyo final. It was also his second time contesting the Brisbane final, after falling to Grigor Dimitrov in the title match two years before. Ironically, he overcame Dimitrov on his way to the 2019 final.
His start to the 2019 season has been in stark contrast to a year ago, when a wrist injury that had sidelined him for several months also kept him out of the Australian Open. Having fallen as low as 39 in the world at one stage, he ended the season at No. 7.
“It took a little while to get my tennis back,” he said. “Also, my wrist was hurting at the same time. It took a little while to get healed 100 per cent. At that time I couldn’t really imagine I’d be in the Top 10 at the end of the year. But I was very happy to finish by playing in London last year.”
He qualified for the ATP Finals in style, making the quarter-finals or better in his final six tournaments of the year ahead of the season finale, highlighted by that run to the last four in Flushing Meadows. And to add icing on the cake, while competing in that last tournament of his season in London he overcame Roger Federer in round-robin play.
“We are delighted to welcome Kei Nishikori to Dubai for the first time,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive vice-chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free. “He has long been successful at the very highest level, reaching the US Open final in 2014 as well as two semi-finals there, the most recent just last year, on a hard court similar to the surface here. That suggests that he is certainly capable of leaving Dubai with the title, and we wish him well.”
Tournament Director Salah Tahlak added, “Having overcome his frustrating wrist injury and a less serious issue that forced him to retire from his quarter-final in Melbourne, Kei Nishikori has become a leading contender for the title.”
Nishikori is certain to be one of the favourites to lift the coveted title, but he faces a daunting challenge with seven-time champion Roger Federer, former US Open winner Marin Cilic, defending Dubai champion Bautista Agut, former Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic and Dubai two-time finalist Tomas Berdych among others also fighting for the prestigious crown.