Kei Nishikori‘s return to Halle wasn’t exactly what he hoped for — after sustaining an ab injury in his opening round match at the Gerry Weber Open, the second seed was forced to withdraw from his second round match against Germany’s Florian Mayer, hoping to prevent his grass court season turning out the way it did last year.
“In the first match, I hurt my side abs and I tried to recover yesterday and today,” Nishikori said Wednesday afternoon as he sat down with press in Halle.
“I tried to hit today and it was a lot of pain so I couldn’t really play today’s match [in] singles and also doubles. It’s very unfortunate but I have to withdraw today. It got worse after the first match and yesterday and today was the same. I thought it was going to get a little better today but it [wasn’t].”
Once again, it is Nishikori’s own body that is playing spoiler for his hopes to have a solid grass court season preparation and casts a shadow of doubt over his Wimbledon hopes.
Earlier this spring, Nishikori’s coach, Michael Chang sat down with the press in Stuttgart while playing the Berenberg Classics and the American admitted that getting his charge to the desired physical fitness level was one of their biggest projects, considering how injury-prone the Japenese star has been throughout his career.
“If you look at how he’s done when we started working in 2014…he was better physically than 2013 and last year, he was better than 2014. We made the physical aspect something that has been a major focus. The amazing thing is, last year he got to a career high of No. 4 in the world, yet missed playing like four huge tournaments last year, so we made it a huge priority.
“The tough thing about the physical conditioning and stamina and endurance and injury prevention, it can never come overnight — so if we’re working on a particular shot, getting a certain thing down, sometimes it can just happen like that. Sometimes it may take a week or two – [the] physical part never comes that quickly, it’s always over a period of time. Even throughout this year, we worked very very hard in the offseason; we had to push him a little bit more because it’s something that he wasn’t used to before but so far this year [as of April] he hasn’t had any big injuries he had to deal with so far. A lot of that has to do with the hard work he has put in, to maintain it during tournament weeks as well as manage it during training weeks and be stronger. It goes in stages.”
During the clay season Nishikori looked solid, posting good results in Madrid and Rome, pushing Novak Djokovic in both instances but running into a red-hot Richard Gasquet in the fourth round of the French Open. Physically, however, the Japanese has been fine and felt he was stronger than in previous years during the clay swing.
“I think it’s getting better,” Nishikori said in Madrid last month. “I think from last year I had a couple of injuries but each year it’s getting less and less. [I] keep doing more physical training outside of the court in the gym and I think I’m getting stronger physically. I think for my body it’s impossible to get no injuries. [You] have to be patient when you get hurt and you have to prepare well. I think it’s getting better.”
The tournament in Halle has been a step backwards again for the 26-year-old, suffering an injury that has bothered him before. Nonetheless, Nishikori is confident and hopeful that he will be ready to compete again in a week and a half at Wimbledon — unlike in 2015 when a calf injury stopped him in Halle and continued to bother him at SW19.
“It’s on the left side. I had it a couple of times, so it’s nothing new. I don’t think it’s going to take a lot of time, I think a few days or week and it should be better.”
“For me, it’s very frustrating, again, this tournament and this time [of the year]. This is one of the greatest tournaments on grass courts, Halle, and Wimbledon is coming up and it’s not easy when you have to withdraw with injury but I have to learn from last year. I got injured here and couldn’t play my best in Wimbledon last year, so I tried to recover well this week and we’ll see next week.”
The left ab issue was hurting him during most shots in practise, which he ended up cutting short early Wednesday and the main focus for the next couple of days is recovery.
“For sure, that I have to take a couple of days off in tennis and I will see. I cannot say right now. I’m sure that it’s not a big deal.”
Germany’s Mayer is the beneficiary of Nishikori’s withdrawal and will play Andreas Seppi in the quarterfinals.