Nick Bollettieri: My Work With Kei Nishikori - UBITENNIS
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Nick Bollettieri: My Work With Kei Nishikori

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Kei Nishikori in action during the Davis Cup (image vian Koji Watanabe/zimbio.com).

Written by Nick Bollettieri

 

The story and background of Kei Nishikori is very much like reading a fiction story about a boy full of dreams and how many of them are coming true.

Kei began playing tennis at the age of 5. It was quickly evident he had a natural talent for the sport. In 2004, when Kei was 13, going on 14, he was selected by Masaaki Morita Tennis Fund committee to receive one of the four Morita Foundation scholarships to train at the IMG Academy – Bollettieri Tennis Program.

The Masaaki Morita Tennis Fund was created and funded by Mr. Masaaki Morita, former Deputy President of Sony Corporation and younger brother of company founder, Akio Morita. Mr. Masaaki Morita created the Morita Foundation with the purpose of helping develop tennis players from Japan. His vision has paid off.

Seeing his potential, Kei and his family prepared for Kei to leave Japan and begin his full time training at the Bollettieri Tennis Program at IMG Academy.  When he arrived, he could hardly speak a word of English, but it was evident he had the desire and the talent to be a top player. He was lightning fast, saw the ball very early, had no fear, and had the presence of a champion.

While developing at the Academy, Kei had the support of top tennis coaches, physical conditioning specialists, mental conditioning specialists, nutritionists, managers, in addition to his academic schooling. He competed on the ITF Junior circuit and at 16 was ranked in the top 20 in the world junior rankings. One year later he was in the top 300 of the ATP rankings. During the 2008 US Open in New York, Kei again showcased his potential when he made it to the round of 16 and defeated the world’s #4 David Ferrer in the process.

Throughout my 60 year career I have experienced almost every type of student. Each one is different and my approach to each one is also different. For example, Monica Seles was a very unorthodox player who hit with two hands off both sides. She stood on top of the baseline and worked every ball. She was not a gifted athlete but she was willing to work hours and hours every day. Andre Agassi had the ability to see and react very quickly to almost any ball. He was a character and it was a must that I understand and listen to him versus telling what to do with everything he did.  Jim Courier was a gifted physical athlete who made up for any technical weaknesses he had (backhand) by using his strengths (forehand, serve, and movement) to cover up his weakness. Maria Sharapova stands on top of the baseline and hits both her forehand and backhand as flat as possible. She is extremely competitive. Venus Williams is beautiful to watch with her more classical movement and strokes. Serena is a very physical player who only knows one way to play – I am going to beat you up no matter what you do. In addition there was Tommy Haas, Anna Kournikova, Max Mirnyi, Xavier Malisse, Jimmy Arias, Aaron Krickstein, Caring Basset, etc, etc. THEY WERE ALL DIFFERENT. IN ORDER TO EFFECTIVELY TEACH AND MOTIVATE THEM I HAD TO COMMUNICATE WITH EACH DIFFERENTLY.

Kei’s greatest assets are his foot speed, hand speed, and his ability to see and create openings in the court. Because of his unusual quickness, he has developed one of the best returns of serve on the tour. Besides Novak Djokovic, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone return as well since Andre Agassi. He has the ability to take the ball very early on both his forehand and backhand and can drive the ball through the court from either side. He can also defend very well because of his quickness. His serve, and particularly his second serve, used to be a bit of a liability. With the help of his coach, Dante Bottini, he has improved his first serve adding pop to it. He now is able to get free points off his first serve. He’s also greatly improved his second serve and can defend it very well. Kei’s ability to withstand the intense grind of consecutive matches and consecutive tournaments and his exposure to injury was also an area that needed to be improved. With the help of his physical trainers and conditioning program, this area has also improved. Talent is one thing. To become the best, I’ve observed that players have to have heart, desire, and the willingness to make huge sacrifices to achieve their goals. This is where his other coach, and former grand slam champion, Michael Chang comes in. Michael Chang has taught Kei how to fight, scrape, and compete at a higher level. Altogether, with Kei’s IMG managers headed by Olivier Van Lindonk, IMG Academy, his physical trainers, coaches Dante Bottini and Michael Chang, Kei has a powerful team behind him and is positioned well to succeed at the highest levels.

What’s the future for Kei Nishikori?  If he can stay healthy and keep improving, he has the chance to maintain his current position in the top five on the ATP rankings and to compete for the top titles in the game. He has the talent, the desire, and the support team. I’m excited to see what will unfold!

The IMG Academy was founded by Nick Bolletteri in 1978 and has been the training centre for some of the worlds best tennis players. Bolletteri has already coached ten world No.1 players, including Andre Agassi, Brois Becker, Martina Hingis, Venus and Serena Williams. The 400 acre complex trains 13,000 junior, collegiate, adult & professional athletes annually, including families and corporate groups,  from over 75 countries. To find out more about programs provided by the academy, visit https://www.imgacademy.com.
You can join Bolletteri’s website for free at www.nickbollettieri.co.uk.  

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Ons Jabeur Powers Past Tame Konta To Reach Australian Open Second Round

Ons Jabeur powered past Johanna Konta to book a place in the second round of the Australian Open.

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Ons Jabeur (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Ons Jabeur powered past a tame Johanna Konta 6-4 6-2 to reach the second round at the Australian Open. 

 

The Tunisian was in confident form as she dispatched an out-of-sorts Johanna Konta in a straight sets victory that lasted 63 minutes.

Next for Jabeur will be either Madison Brengle or Caroline Garcia while there were wins for Dayana Yastremska and Maria Sakkari early on day two.

It was a bright start for Jabeur as she brought her unconventional style to court as the Brit struggled with her opponent’s variety.

A break point was saved from the 12th seed as she looked to find some structure in a difficult match-up for the Brit, who lost to Jabeur in Eastbourne last season.

Plenty of power and good tactical serving was shown by Konta, who looked to create the space and power past Jabeur.

That worked to an extent but Jabeur’s confidence would soon pay off as her drop-shots and slices were causing the world number 12 problems.

Eventually a thumping forehand sealed the opening set for Tunisian as she grabbed the first break of the contest.

Despite losing the opening set, Konta dug in deep as she started to shorten points off in the net with good success as she broke to start the second set.

But once again Jabeur’s quick thinking and unconventional style caught Konta off-guard as some stunning returning sealed the break back.

There was only one winner after that moment as the Brit only managed to hold serve on one occasion in the second set.

As Konta fell apart, Jabeur embraced the occasion as she powered her way into the second round to play Madison Brengle or Caroline Garcia.

It was clear Konta was far from her best and a lot of fitness and match practice will be needed in order to thrive later in the season.

On the other hand, Jabeur’s confidence and unique game style will cause problems throughout the draw as she looks for another good season.

In other results on day two so far, there was a convincing win for Adelaide Dayana Yastremska as she thrashed Kaja Juvan 6-1 6-1.

The Ukrainian hit 11 winners as she set up a second round meeting with Caroline Wozniacki on Wednesday. There was also a 6-2 6-2 win for Maria Sakkari over Margarita Gasparyan.

Four breaks of serve secured the Greek’s place in the second round against Nao Hibino or Shuai Peng.

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Novak Djokovic Overcomes Blip To Secure 900th Tour-Level Victory

Novak Djokovic advanced into the second round of the Australian Open by setting another milestone on Monday evening.

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Novak Djokovic overcame a third set blip to secure his 900 tour-level victory after a 7-6(5) 6-2 2-6 6-1 win over Jan-Lennard Struff. 

 

It wasn’t a vintage performance from the defending champion but he produced his best tennis when he needed to against a high-level opponent.

The four set win not only seals a place in the second round of the Australian Open but secures his 900th tour-level win.

Tatsuma Ito or Prajnesh Gunneswaran awaits Djokovic on Wednesday.

The Serb picked up from where he left the ATP Cup as he produced a stunning start to the match as he penetrated his forehand in the early stages.

Although Struff had an amazing 2019 season, he hasn’t yet brought his best tennis when playing the best in the world.

Looking to prove a point, the German managed to fend off Djokovic in the early stages before the defending champion raised his level.

Smooth and fast movement around the forehand as he whipped it with pace and power saw the world number two force a lot of errors from Struff.

Racing into a 5-2 lead, it looked like it would be another typical Djokovic performance in which he makes the strongest players average.

However the German refused to give up as he relied on his confidence from last season. Some magical shot-making and a lapse in concentration saw Struff claw his way back to 5-5 in the opening set.

There was a look of frustration on Djokovic’s face as Struff’s power saw him force a first set tiebreak which was eventually edged by the Serb 7-5.

After a nervy and bizarre opening set, the Serb was back to his best tennis in the second set dominating play from the back of the court, producing some sensational returning.

It was a flatter set from Struff though as he conceded two breaks of serve and fell to a two sets to love deficit in quick fashion.

Although Djokovic produced his best tennis in the second set, the third set was completely the opposite as he lacked concentration and intensity to allow his German opponent back into the match.

The world number 37 broke serve on three occasions as he became the first to take a set off Novak Djokovic in the first round of the Australian Open since 2006.

That resolve and mini-comeback ended as soon as it began though as Djokovic secured his 900th tour-level win after winning six of the last seven games.

After the match, Djokovic sounded proud of his latest milestone, “I’m obviously very proud of all the achievements but at the same time I try to remind myself of how grateful I should be,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.

“Playing at a very high level in the sport I truly love. Can’t take things for granted, I’m trying to enjoy every moment.” 

Although it wasn’t a vintage performance from last year’s champion, it was still a victory against a high-level opponent who was playing some hard-hitting tennis at times.

Next up for the second seed will either be Tatsuma Ito or Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

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Elena Rybakina reaches her second consecutive final in 2020

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Elena Rybakina beat British qualifier Heather Watson 6-3 4-6 6-4 after 2 hours and 16 minutes in the Hobart International semifinal setting up a final match against China’s Zhang Shuai.

 

Rybakina has become the first player to reach back-to-back finals in the first two weeks of the year since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013. The Kazakh player finished runner-up to Ekaterina Alexandrova last week in Shenzhen.

Rybakina earned the first break in the first game, but Watson broke back with two forehand winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Rybakina broke for the second time with a crosscourt forehand in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and sealed the first set with another break on the first set point, as Watson hit her dropshot into the net.

Rybakina saved three break points with two aces and a service winner, but Watson converted her fourth chance with her forehand return winner.

Watson went up a double break with a forehand pass and held her serve to race out to a 5-1. Rybakina converted her second break point chance to claw her way back to 3-5.

Rybakina earned two break points in the 10th game, but Watson saved the first chance with a backhand winner before serving out the second set with consecutive service winners.

Watson saved a break point in the second game of the third set as Rybakina made a backhand error. Rybakina fended off a break point chance in the fifth game with a down-the-line backhand winner. Rybakina converted her second break point chance with a drop-shot winner on the match point.

“It was a really tough match. I was still missing all these balls in the second set. In the last few games I was playing really risky, and I am really happy that I won this match”, said Rybakina.

Rybakina set up a final against Zhang Shuai, who reached the third WTA final of her career after a 6-3 6-4 win over Veronika Kudemertova.

Zhang earned three break point chances at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner and converted her first chance after Kudemertova sent her forehand wide. Kudemertova won two hard-fought service game at 4-2 and at 5-3. Zhang closed out the set on her second set point in the ninth game.

Both players held on their service games in the second set until 4-4. Zhang earned a break point in the ninth game, as Kudemertova made a forehand error. The Chinese player got the break, as Kudemertova made her forehand error. Kudemertova earned her first two break points of the match, as Zhang was serving for the match. Zhang held her serve at deuce, as Kudemertova missed returns on the next four points.

“The winter training went really good for me. Training with the national team, a lot of coaches helped me, so I was already ready before this tournament. I think all matches I played really well this week, and also a lot of the Chinese fans are coming to cheer for me, so I have had a lot of motivationto win”,said Zhang Shuai.

 

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