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