“A rather unique style.” Michael Chang on Kei Nishikori, interviewed by @FranckRamella of l’Équipe

Translation of the print version of this article (paywall) by @franckramella in the print version of l’Équipe, 18 November 2016, page 29.

 

With his game, I bring the small things. I started with the serve

How would you define your role with Kei?

It’s of course a combination of everything. On the physical side, I don’t involve myself in his training sessions,  but he trains with my old trainer. And we’re starting to see the effects. The improvements are pretty obvious this year, I think. With his game, I bring the small things. I started with the serve. When we started in 2013, Kai was making more double faults than aces. about 150 doubles and 140 aces. It was obviously something he needed to work on. In 2014, he got down to 140 doubles, but something like 290 aces. The idea is to make a more complete player. I think he’s become a good volleyer too.

 

he’s a real fashion victim. I’d say he has a rather unique style. Check out his shoes …

Nishikori gives the impression of being a very shy player who goes almost unnoticed.

That’s because you don’t see everything. We often see him in his tennis kit. But when he dresses in his city clothes, he’s a real fashion victim. I’d say he has a rather unique style. Check out his shoes …

 

He’s not someone who wants to go out clubbing. That’s not his nature. He wants to do things that are good for his tennis.


Dante Bottini [his second coach who’s been with him since the beginning] told us once that he’s quite guarded and he was occasionally difficult to decode.

That’s possibly one of my advantages with him.  My Asian culture [he’s American but born of Chinese parents] means that I can sense certain things. An Asian will often be reserved. You need to feel the tone, understand when he’s ready to give more of himself. Kei isn’t one who often speaks up compared to other players. But it’s OK, he gives his opinions. We’ve been together for almost three years. We understand each other better. We don’t see each other especially often at tournaments, but when he comes to train in California, he sometimes spends a few days at the house. He’s reserved but I see him being talkative with his Japanese friends. He’s not someone who wants to go out clubbing. That’s not his nature. He wants to do things that are good for his tennis. He works a lot.


So he’s a coach’s dream, then?

I’d still like him to be more demonstrative on court, to be more excited when he hits a big shot. But OK, everyone has their own personality. It would be wrong to try and change it.


One doesn’t get the impression that he might one day serve underhanded to confuse an opponent …

Maybe because he has more power than me [laughs]. It’s true that you also need to be aware of what’s happening on the court, to try different things. We’re working on that with Kei.


Do you feel the pressure from Japan with the huge excitement there about Nishikori?

Honestly, no. God has made each one of us unique. Wondering about what others think of us is a useless distraction.


You’re very religious. Do you share that faith with Nishikori?

No, he’s not a Christian. He doesn’t understand much about that. I tell him about the concepts of sharing and the prayers we have for him.


And how does he resist the pressure from his country?

Pretty well. He learned a lot after his US Open final in 2014. He was already known, but he got even bigger. He has lucky in not spending a lot of time in Japan by living in the United States. If not, it would be a totally different story. I just tell him that knowing how to manage the pressure is one of the marks of the greats.

 

 
Translated by Mark Alan Nixon

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Nicolas Mahut on being selected for the French Davis Cup team for the first time: “I never give up”

From Franck Ramella’s article in l’Équipe March 4 2015, print edition page 13.

“I never give up.” Nicolas Mahut in l’Équipe to @franckramella

– Just before you got here I was talking with some friends about the team over-35 matches held by the TCP [Tennis Club of Paris] … Just saying that these meetings, they’re my education, my path. At Beaucouzé, my little home town [near Angers], I went along with my mother and father who played over-35 on a county level.  I got the chance to play with all the French teams – in the Winter Cup, Copa del Sol, Galéa or Borotra, all those child or junior competitions. So obviously my Holy Grail is playing the Davis Cup and winning. I’ve always trained with that as my number one objective. I grew up with the 1991 win. I was nine, I was at home, I remember it exactly, I didn’t see the whole doubles because I had a tournament. When I heard that I was selected against Germany, I told myself, “There you go – I didn’t do it all for nothing.” Seriously, I didn’t see it coming at all. I could have been selected before. When I was up to 40 in 2008 Guy [Forget] called me to tell me that I wasn’t far off. I’ve distance myself a lot since last year, but always with the idea of being the best I could possibly be. And if I’m there, it’s because I didn’t give up.

“That’s my trademark. I go all out. In 2009 I was pretty well broken everywhere with my shoulder and elbow [right side], before the Federation held a hand out to my by putting me into one of their groups. I missed five months in 2013 because of my left knee. But every time I fell, I built myself back up going all out so I wouldn’t have any regrets. Because I have a real passion for this sport, because I want to be able to look at myself in a mirror later on. Yes I’ve made mistakes. I haven’t had enough self confidence. I expected too much from those around me for a very long time. I expected them to have answers when it’s the player who has the answers. Climbing back up is learning. Three times I’ve been way down and got back up into the top 100. I think I really have mental resources. The match against John [Isner] us a perfect example. I literally felt what I could do better in terms of concentration. I can still use it in moments of extreme stress in certain matches.

“I’m full of desire, I’m fresh today. I’m lucky to have an exceptional woman at home who pushes me to the limit of what I can do. She tells me, ‘It can last another three or four years, after that you can do something else.’ OK, maybe I shouldn’t tell her that Nestor and Mirnyi are still playing at 43 and 37 … But I’m not putting up any barriers because I haven’t reached the objectives I’ve set for myself. One goal is to go the the Rio Olympics next year. Also to win a Slam doubles. The fact that I played with Mika (Llodra, notably in 2013) gave me a lot, not just his advice about doubles but also because he kept repeating non-stop that if we played together, it was to win a big title. And just by hearing it repeated you tell yourself, ‘Yeah, he’s right, that’s where we belong.’ It makes a huge difference starting out. I have more confidence today, I know myself better. I feel perfectly prepared physically. I owe a huge debt to Xavier Moreau and to Jean-Michel Levêque who have fixed my knee up. If I’d trained like this earlier, I would have had better results. Right now Thierry [Ascione, his coach] tells me he hasn’t seen me play this well in two years …”


Translated by Mark Nixon

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