By Abhishek Mehrotra
Since winning the ATP Newcomer of the Year back in 2008, Nishikori has risen through the ranks to establish himself in the Top 20 of the ATP circuit, notching up wins over the likes of Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfriend Tsonga in the process.
And although he has struggled a bit for consistency since making the quarter-final of the Australian Open earlier this year, the 22-year-old remains hopeful of maintaining his top-20 status through the end of the year.
Q: Tennis is not a very big sport in Japan. Tell us how you get into it?
A: My parents played for fun. I started when I was five - my dad brought a kids' racket from Hawaii. So I started playing with my parents and elder sister in the park, even though there was no tennis court. I started winning the national tournaments when I was 11 or 12 which is when I began to think about going pro, and then I moved to Florida when I was 14.
Q: Why Florida?
A: I was lucky that one guy in the Japan Tennis Association helped me get to the academy [Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy - which has trained the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles]. The contract was three years, but then I liked it and they extended the contract. I really liked it - so I'm still based there.
Q: Did you have any tennis idols while growing up?
A: It has always been Roger Federer. I think for me he is the best tennis player of all time. He was too strong for me in Basel - I lost 2 and 3 [Nishikori lost 1 and 3 to Federer in the final of Swiss Indoors Tournament last year] . He's so talented, he can do everything, I felt like I had almost no chance. But it was good to know the level at which the world's best players.
Q: Do you and the other younger players ever approach guys like Federer for advice?
A: I don't work like that - I have a whole team around to help me. But it's good experience when I get to play him.
Q: So what do you need to do to challenge the top guys on a regular basis?
A: I need to be more consistent - be a little more aggressive than I usually am, come to the net, use my forehand.
Q: You've had a few notable wins over the past year or so - over the likes of Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the past year. How have those helped you?
A: You get a lot of confidence from beating the top players. I beat Djokovic, Tsonga at the end of last year - that helped me get through to the quarters of Australian Open this year. I've been a struggling a bit this year, not being able to reach the semis and finals - but I hope to correct that in the rest of this year.
Q: You've broken into the world top 20, and have had some good wins like we just talked about. Has that increased the pressure on you?
A: A little bit. When I reached the top 20 - I started playing the lower ranked players more. Even when I'm playing players in the 40s and 50s - I feel I have to beat them. So I feel that pressure sometimes. But when people ask me, do you feel pressure because of being the top ranked player in Asia or Japan - I don't feel that much. I live in the States, so I don't have to face the national media or people that often.
Q: What are you targets for the near future?
A: I want to keep my ranking in the top 20 and hopefully, after that, I can break into the top 10
Q: What does Asia need to do to start producing world-class players like you on a regular basis?
A: That's a tough question. There are so many talented players in Asia - I see so many juniors winning ITF tournaments but suddenly they disappear. I don't know - I was very lucky to go to the States at such a young age and I got to play so many different players.
All the top guys are from Europe and the States - so players here need to go outside, not just play in Asia. In the states, the sport is so professional and it's so big - maybe it's one of the reasons they're so serious about it. In Japan, you have to study so much [that taking up sports professionally is very difficult for youngsters].
And now a couple of questions for you from our readers.
If you were an animal, what would you be?
What's your favourite cuisine?
Japanese. I sometimes cook Japanese noodles at home when I get tired of American food.
What's your favourite football team?
I follow Manchester United a bit because they signed my countryman Shinji Kagawa.