The Japanese sensation enjoyed a career-best season on 2012, rising from outside the top 20 to peak at world No.15 in October and becoming the first ever home-grown winner of the Japan Open in Tokyo.
Strengths: Nishikori is most famous for his forehand, a whip-like stroke with great acceleration and disguise that he often hits with both feet off the ground. While his game is anchored around getting a chance to crack as many forehands as possible, he also possesses a solid backhand and dependable serve, and his excellent movement and consistency means opponents need to work extremely hard to put him away. He demonstrated his versatility in 2012 by making at least the quarterfinal stage at hard, clay, grass and indoor events.
Weaknesses: For all his strengths, Nishikori – like most players on the men’s tour less than six feet tall – can struggle a little in the power department. The forehand is indeed a major weapon, but his serve and backhand are attackable, and he sometimes lacks the ability to produce consistently penetrative groundstrokes to trouble the big guns.
Opportunities: Nishikori set a series of firsts in 2012, including being the first Asian in the year-end top 20 since Paradorn Srichaphan in 2003 and becoming the first local winner of the Japan Open in the tournament’s 40-year history. Undoubtedly coming into 2013 full of confidence, he has the chance to further cement his legacy as one of the best Asian male players in history. And with hard courts being his best surface – he went 23-11 on hard in 2012 – he is well placed for a good run in Melbourne.
Threats: Having endured almost a year out of the game during 2009-2010 with a right elbow injury, physical ailments again reared their head this season, with Nishikori sitting out the bulk of the claycourt season with an abdominal injury. The hard surface in Melbourne will not be forgiving to this injury-prone player. He went 3-5 against top 10 opponents in 2012, a group of players he’ll have to go through – and reverse that record against – if he hopes for Australian Open success.
Todd Woodbridge, former world No.1 doubles player and Tennis Australia’s Head of Professional Tennis
“Australian Open 2013 will be a new experience for him because he has to defend quarterfinal points from last year, so comes into a major for first time with quite a bit of pressure. He’s used to dealing with this because he’s huge in Japan, but it’s a huge ask for him to go better than what he did in 2012.”