Kei Nishikori said he is having to unlearn a tendency to respect older and more experienced players too much, after defeating Andy Murray 6-4, 6-4 in his Barclays ATP World Tour Finals debut.
Asked about the emphasis Japanese culture places upon respecting one’s elders, the world no. 5 admitted to ‘struggling with that’ in the past.
‘When I was junior, I wasn’t thinking too much, so I was able to play good tennis with anyone,’ Nishikori said. ‘But after turning pro, I was feeling a lot of respect to everybody actually, especially top players. Like the first time I played Roger, [I] couldn’t play anything because I respect [him] too much. … I was just, you know, play tennis against my idol. That was one of the problems I had.’
Nishikori is used to making history for his country. Earlier this year, he became the first Japanese player to reach the finals of a Grand Slam, and he is the first Japanese or Asian-born man to qualify for the season-ending championships at the o2. As such, he is often asked about the state of tennis in Asia in general and he has been keen to pay tribute to other players, such as the two-time Grand Slam champion Li Na, who recently retired. ‘Li Na and [Paradorn] Srichapan, I was looking up to them,’ Nishikori said. ‘I felt a lot of motivation from them.’
But whatever Nishikori’s problems in the past with showing too much deference to his elders, the Japanese player is certainly overcoming them rapidly. His 6-4, 6-4 victory over Murray was his tenth victory over a top-10 player in 2014, one more than he had achieved in the whole rest of his career to date. And it was largely a victory of confidence, as well. Both players looked tired and more than a little nervous, but it was the less experienced Nishikori who pulled himself together and started to play with much more confidence and purpose, attacking Murray’s second serve fruitfully to break the British player’s serve four times and claim a first victory over the world no. 6.
In fact, the biggest threat Nishikori faced on the court seemed to be getting used to the surroundings: ‘The stadium is huge,’ he said. ‘I try not to look up too much because there [were] too many people on the top.’
The world no. 5 also recovered superbly from a poor service game which surrendered the lead in the second set, after having break points to lead 4-0. ‘I should have finish maybe 6-2 or 6-3 before he’s coming back,’ Nishikori said. ‘But I was try[ing] to stay calm, even [though] he was playing [a] little better, start[ed] playing more consistent. I got little bit tight, honestly.’
Considering that Nishikori had lost all three of the matches he had played against Murray in previous years, never succeeding in winning so much as a set from the British player, it’s reasonable to wonder just what has changed. In his post-match press conference, Murray credited Nishikori with increased confidence rather than any technical changes and Nishikori, asked for his opinion, agreed.
‘For sure I was different than these couple [of] matches we played because this year I was, you know, much better player than before and more aggressive, have bigger result this year,’ Nishikori said. ‘So that’s why I try not to think “I can’t beat these guys” because I’ve been beating these top-10 guys already.’