Kei Nishikori ready for the ‘second’ phase of his tennis journey as he eyes return to top five

Kei Nishikori in action

His return to top-level tennis following a series of serious injuries has been slow and steady, but Kei Nishikori is now ready to kick on and surge back up the rankings.

The Japanese icon finished runner-up at the 2014 US Open and reached a career-high of No 4 in the ATP Rankings the following year while he was also a bronze medallist at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

However, he suffered a string of injuries with right, elbow and shoulder problems forcing him to miss several months of action over the past few years.

The 31-year-old dropped to as low as No 45 in the world in recent months, but he is working his way back up as he reached the quarter-final in Rotterdam a fortnight ago.

After an early exit in Marseille, he is back to winning ways at the Dubai Tennis Championships as he beat Reilly Opelka from the United States in the first round before upsetting fifth seed David Goffin 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) to reach the third round.

“If I want to come back to my level before, I have to be tough,” Nishikori said. “You have to think more, and you have many more expectations. But the way I think now, is [that] this is my second [career] journey.

“I had elbow surgery two years ago, a shoulder injury last year and couldn’t play three or four months. I’ve had many injuries. I have to be happy, and I’ve been playing well [over] the past two weeks. My goal is to return to the Top 10, [the] Top 5 hopefully. I think it will be a long way back, because everyone is playing well. I have to step up more against Top 50 opponents, but I’ve been enjoying the challenge.”

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