Born in Matsue, Japan in 1989, Kei Nishikori started playing tennis at the age of five and won the All Japan Tennis Championships for Kids in 2001. He moved to Florida to join the private athletic training institute IMG Academy in his early teens and qualified for his first Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) main draw event at the Countryside Classic a few years later.
Nishikori went on to win the 2004 title at the Riad 21 Tournament in Morocco and become a quarter-finalist at the Junior French Open two years later. He then won the 2007 Luxilon Cup at the 2007 Sony Ericsson Open in Florida and the International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach in 2008. In recent years Nishikori has been on a quick climb to the top of his sport, winning the Malaysian, Japanese and Memphis Opens throughout 2014-2015 and is currently ranked World No. 4.
Partly due to the close relationship he shares with his parents and older sister and his youthful appearance, Nishikori has charming appeal and widespread popularity both in Japan and across the world, which has made him a top choice for sponsors in recent years. His face appears on the cover of the EA Sports Grand Slam tennis game, on seafood noodle cups in Asia and he even inspired Uniqlo, one of Japan’s major clothing firms, to branch out into tennis apparel.
He is also the only male Japanese tennis player to place among the top 10 in ATP Singles Ranking and has endorsement deals with numerous products, including Delta Airlines, Tag Heuer, Jaguar and Adidas. Off the court Nishikori has partnered with the American Red Cross and other organizations to facilitate donations on a Facebook page he created to help victims of the earthquakes and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. Nishikori has truly become the face of tennis in Japan, inspiring a younger generation to start playing the game. At his young age, he has proven he can hold his own among the sports’ greatest athletes, including such big names as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
A major behind-the-scenes contributor to Nishikori’s success is his coach Michael Chan, who is a former American professional tennis player. Chan focused not only improving Nishikori physically by having him train in repetitions, but also on his mental capabilities. With advice such as, “Think there’s no body you cannot beat” or “Every player has strength and weakness. Analyze the weakness and come up with a strategy while embracing the strength to result in a victory,” Chan was able to strengthen Nishikori’s mind as well as his body.
Known for his speed and footwork around the court, Nishikori provides inspiration worldwide for athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike. On top of playing tennis, he spends a lot of his time improving his body strength. He devotes much of his off season training to core and balance exercises, and includes plenty of heavy lifting. He also stresses the importance of building endurance and proper stretching prior to any physical exertion.
Originally Nishikori found it difficult to gain weight, so he hired a nutritionist to help him improve his body. The nutritionist pointed out that his diet was heavily protein based, which he changed to include more carbohydrates in order to give him enduring energy during a game. He also started to eat 7-8 times per day and as a result was able to gain more muscle. Today his choice of pre-game meal is pasta, which he finds easy to digest.
As his impressive athletic skills and current celebrity superstar status in Asia continue to grow, it seems Nishikori is well on his way to a long standing tennis career and is excited about the idea of it: “I know that it’s only going to get better.”