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Nishikori’s Strong Week in Rotterdam Tennis Ends With Quarterfinal Loss to Coric

Borna Coric beat Kei Nishikori for the first time to advance to his first semifinal of the season in Rotterdam. Photo credit: ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament Facebook

By Ricky Dimon

Kei Nishikori’s week at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament came to an end with a 7-6(2), 7-6(4) loss to Borna Coric during quarterfinal action on Friday night. A competitive contest from start to finish saw Coric prevail in one hour and 59 minutes.

“It was really, really close, the Croat commented. “I was serving very well, but he is one of the best returners on tour so I needed to do a lot of running. It was a bit tiring. But in the end it was a really good match.”

Despite the loss, it was a good performance overall in Rotterdam for Nishikori. It marked his first quarterfinal appearance since Wimbledon in 2019 and the first time he won back-to-back matches at a tournament since the 2019 U.S. Open. Before falling to Coric, the world No. 45 from Japan scored impressive victories over Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur.

Following his defeat of de Minaur, Nishikori confirmed that he has been working especially hard on his serve for more than a year now with coaches Max Mirnyi and Michael Chang. The 31-year-old is trying to get more power while also relieving pressure on his shoulder in hopes of avoiding injury. 

Kei Nishikori fell to Borna Coric at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. EPA-EFE/KOEN SUYK

“I [made a change in my service motion] after elbow surgery (in October 2019) and last December,” Nishikori explained. “I was working with Max, Michael, and a Japanese coach, as well. I tried to look again with my serve and I needed more power but less use of my shoulder. I was hurting my shoulder, too, last year.

“I don’t feel 100 percent yet, but I think it’s on the way. I was hitting good serves the past two matches, so I’m happy with my serve now.

“Because of my history of injury, I feel like I still need to change something. I’m really open to anything. Of course it’s not easy; it’s going to take some time. I still feel like it’s not there yet. But for my body, I will do anything that makes it better.”

Speaking of making changes and adapting to certain situations, that is exactly what this Rotterdam event–like many others–has been required to do amidst the coronavirus pandemic. The tournament is being played behind closed doors, so changes have been made without any fans in attendance.

For example, the lighting is modeled after what we have seen at year-end events in London and Millman.

“We have a TV product only,” tournament director Richard Krajicek explained. “We want to make it as nice as possible for TV.… We got the backdrop idea from the NextGen ATP Finals. Five, six, or seven years ago, there was a huge investment into our Centre Court. Everything was changed. The roof was changed, but also the lighting.

“We now have show lighting, which we can do everything with. Like at The O2, we can put a lot of lights on the court and the rest we can keep fairly dark. You can create a certain atmosphere. For the players, it is nice. They don’t see completely empty stands. The motivation was to make it as nice as possible to watch.”

Although players like Alexander Zverev have complained about the slow court speed, that was only because they lost. It has produced thrilling encounters and baseline battles such as Nishikori vs. de Minaur, Nishikori vs. Coric, Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Hubert Hurkacz, and Tsitsipas vs. Karen Khachanov.

As a whole, Krajicek and the rest of the tournament staff has made the best of a difficult situation and the final weekend promises to be a fun one with Tsitsipas facing Andrey Rublev and Coric going up against either Tommy Paul or Marton Fucsovics.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.