But Nishikori reached his second clay-court ATP Masters 1000 final at that tournament, defeating Top 5 players Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev along the way. That served as a springboard, as he qualified for the Nitto ATP Finals and returned to the world’s Top 10.
“Playing the clay-court season, I started getting more confidence and more feel for the ball,” Nishikori said in his ATP My Story delivered by FedEx. “I started playing better on clay. I think there were more rallies and more hitting. Beating Tomas Berdych, Cilic and Sascha, those great players [in Monte-Carlo], I got more confidence and since then I’ve been more confident and playing much better.”
Nishikori, who is into the semi-finals this week at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, has long been successful on clay. While he has won 10 of his 12 ATP Tour titles on hard courts, Nishikori has a higher winning percentage on clay.
According to his FedEx ATP Win/Loss Record, the 29-year-old has won 71.3 per cent of his clay-court matches compared to 68.2 per cent on hard courts. Nishikori currently ranks fifth among active players on the surface, and 25th in the Open Era.
“I played many matches before and I think maybe the clay courts helped a little bit with more time and more rhythm,” Nishikori said of his comeback last season. “From Monte-Carlo, I was a different guy.”
It’s easy to forget that 15 months ago, Nishikori was competing on the ATP Challenger Tour to try to find a rhythm. But last year’s clay season helped him find his best tennis and now, he is trying to make a splash on the red dirt again.
“I think I’m enjoying tennis a little more than before I got injured,” Nishikori said. “I’m really happy to be coming back with my tennis and coming back to this level. I’m really happy to compete with those great players.”