After a 2014 season in which he witnessed his first Grand Slam final and ATP World Tour Finals appearance, Kei Nishikori was looking to do one better in both by lifting up his first Grand Slam title or year-end title. It was not meant to be for the world number eight as injuries and some poor showings in the big tournaments were main talking points of his season.
The Japanese number one hit 50+ wins for a second consecutive season, tallying a career-high 54 wins. Against the top ten, he wasn’t his best going 6-10, but when matches went to deciding sets, Nishikori continued his phenomenal record in those matches. He went 18-6 this year in matches that went to a deciding set and moved to 85-23 overall.
The clay season has treated Nishikori well over the past couple of years. Last year, he looked well on his way to a first Masters title at the Mutua Madrid Open, but a back injury allowed Rafael Nadal back into the match before retiring down in the third set. He also won his first career clay title in Barcelona last year. This year, he successfully defended that Barcelona title, avoiding a clash with Nadal once again, thanks to an upset by Fabio Fognini.
Including Barcelona, Nishikori managed to reach the quarterfinals or better of all four clay tournaments he played in. Despite failing to get back to the Madrid final, he did make it to the semifinal, losing to eventual champion Andy Murray. At the French Open, he nearly shocked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and the rest of the nation after leveling the match from two sets down but fell in five.
It was a bit unexpected to see Nishikori tail off towards the end of the season this year after witnessing some of his best results come at the latter half of 2014. It all started with his first round exit at the US Open at the hands of Benoit Paire where the Frenchman saved match points in the fourth to turn the match around. He failed to defend his home title in Tokyo and did not make it past the round of 16 in Shanghai and Paris-Bercy, To cap it all off, he went 1-2 in the round-robin portion of the ATP World Tour Finals, which eliminated him in the group stages.
The 2014 US Open runner-up found himself in the winner’s circle three times this year. In Memphis, he defeated three Americans, all by three sets, before meeting Kevin Anderson in the final. He went on to defeat the South African in straight sets. As previously mentioned, Nishikori was able to lift up the trophy in Barcelona once again. He dropped one set, against Roberto Bautista Agut, en route to the title, where he defeated Pablo Andujar in the final.
Nishikori’s final title came in Rock Creek Park at the Citi Open. He struggled in his opening match against James Duckworth, dropping the first set but managed to rebound. In the semifinals, he defeated his 2014 US Open conqueror, Marin Cilic, and then defeated John Isner in the final.
Nishikori didn’t see too many poor results in 2015 but two early exits and Grand Slams were by far his worst results of the year. After winning his opening round match at Wimbledon over Simone Bolelli, injury prevented him playing in his second round match. With 1200 points to defend, the pressure mounted on the Japanese number one with a tough opening match against Benoit Paire. Despite holding match points, in the fourth set tiebreak, he faltered as Paire’s witty drop shots and unbelievable hitting outdid the world number eight in the end.
Okay, so Nishikori had more wins this season compared to last. Does that warrant a better grade? Absolutely not. He reached new heights last year with a first Masters and Grand Slam final. He didn’t achieve that at all this year. Three titles, might be a nice addition to Nishikori’s trophy cabinet, but other than that, it was nothing more than a year of what ifs for the world number eight.