It was 11 years ago that this young kid turned up at my academy. He couldn’t speak a word of English, a lost boy in a strange land. Roll away the intervening years and Kei Nishikori has broken into the world’s top 10, the highest ranking a Japanese player has every enjoyed. It has been a pleasure to watch the boy’s progress and he can go higher, but first he has to deal with Goliath.
Nishikori doesn’t have a great record here at Wimbledon and Kenny de Schepper, all 6ft 8in of this never-ending Frenchman, is going to offer one hell of a first-round hurdle this afternoon. Boy is Kei going to have to jump high to get over him. Playing a giant leftie with a thunderbolt for a serve and a crashing forehand to follow that up – boom, boom – is just what you don’t want in the first few days of Wimbledon when the courts are still good and grassy. The turf means that the ball does not come up off the ground and so a big serve is even more of a weapon.
So if you are playing one of these guys like De Schepper you have to win your serve and hit out on his returns. Andre Agassi always used to say when you come up against a big server you have to give it one hell of a swing. Swing and swing hard. His philosophy was to go for it right off the bat. I believe Nishikori will probably look to go that way as well. It is also important not to get too obsessed with the guy’s serve – remember you have to serve, too. Win your serve and get at least into a tiebreaker against a big server and you have a chance because anything goes in a tiebreak.
Nishikori also has to guard against staying too far back. That can be easy to do when you are facing a big server but if they have a slice and the ball keeps low that will be dangerous so Kei will have to move up and get into the box and take that ball early.
It’s a good tale. This guy couldn’t speak a lick of English when he arrived at Florida aged 13. It’s not easy being away from your native land. He had to make a big life change coming over from Japan as a young boy and spending all of his formative years at the academy. He was quiet and it took him quite a while to get used to being away from home. Everything is so different, the diet, the culture, you name it. We treated him as part of the family and he began to make friends – he used to room with Zach Gilbert, Brad’s son. He is a wonderful soul, has no animosity, doesn’t brag, all round a lovely kid.
And he can play, too. He has unbelievable hands and movement and he has added to that by realising how to fight. This past year has seen him move up the learning curve with results now following that ability we’d always seen at the academy. He has beaten Roger Federer this year and reached the danger end of tournaments, making the final in Madrid and the semis over in Miami. It took him into the top 10 earlier this year. Right now he has slipped back to 12 but top 10 is a level he can belong in. He has struggled this year with a back injury but I am told he is OK again.
So how is he set up? His game is built on unbelievable footwork, he’s a shot maker, great hands and you never know what he is going to do. Nishikori has improved his serve and is coming forward to the net more. I see this match going four sets. It won’t be easy for him, no sir, but his ability to hit almost any type of shot and his slick movement means this match goes to Nishikori.
Today’s big game: Kenny de Schepper vs Kei Nishikori
France Nationality Japan
27 Age 24
Toulouse Residence Florida
6ft 8in Height 5ft 10in
Right-handed Plays Right-handed
No 73 World ranking No 12
0 Career titles 5
$849,290 Prize-money $5.21m
3-3 Wimbledon record 4-5
Fourth round (2013) Wimbledon best Third round (twice)
0 Head-to-head 0
Bolly’s prediction: Nishikori in four
Coaching report: Watch out for Dimitrov – this guy’s the real deal
There has been plenty of talk around Wimbledon about Grigor Dimitrov. How good is this boy? We were chatting up in the BBC commentary box and Richard Krajicek said he doesn’t think he is quite ready. He looked the part today. This guy can go places and these two weeks will give us an idea of how far.
Dimitrov has a lot of the ingredients that make up a damn good player but if I could offer him one piece of advice it would be never to show negative emotion on court. But he’s got the goods – strong serve, good one-handed backhand, he’s quick, moves well.
The first set against Ryan Harrison – a guy I know very well and a player who at 22 has a decent future of his own ahead of him – was tight and Dimitrov did well to get through it. After that it was one way for the Bulgarian and the wrong way for Harrison. He can come again. As for Dimitrov, I think he is the real deal. He is still only 23 and seeded 11 here, but if he keeps going like this he can take some big boys down
A word on Kimiko Date-Krumm. She went out on Monday to Ekaterina Makarova, but boy did she run her close. She never stopped running.
Makarova is 26 and the world No 22. Date-Krumm turns 44 this year and is playing at Wimbledon for a fourth decade. You just have to take your hat off to the lady. To be playing at this level at her age should be an inspiration to every single one of you out there – get out there and play.
But I’ll tell you what she has that can’t be coached or bought. Guts, pure and simple. She never gives up and good on her.Reuse content