Just like many other players who were the main forces in tennis in the last five years or so, Kei Nishikori couldn't finish 2017 season in the way he wanted, missing all the action after Montreal due to a right wrist injury to drop out from the Top 10 for the first time in three years! The start of the new season was troubled for Kei and his fans as well, being forced to skip Brisbane, Sydney and the Australian Open after failing to recover completely, and he decided to kick off the season at the Newport Beach Challenger where world number 238 Dennis Novikov defeated him in the first round in what was the toughest loss for Kei in terms of the rival's rankings since Eastbourne 2010! A week later, Kei played on a higher level in Dallas despite still having some problems with his forehand, winning his first Challenger title since 2010 and reaching the semi-final at the ATP 250 event in New York where he lost to Kevin Anderson in the deciding tie-break.
Denis Shapovalov toppled him in the first round of Acapulco and he couldn't do much against Juan Martin del Potro in Miami either, dropping to the 39th place in the rankings for the first time since October 2011. The start of the clay season was very promising for the Japanese, reaching the final of the Masters 1000 event in Monte Carlo where he lost to Rafael Nadal to return into the Top 25.
Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Novak Djokovic halted him in the opening rounds of Barcelona and Madrid before the quarter-final loss to Novak in Rome as well. At Roland Garros, Kei defeated three French players before the fourth round clash against Dominic Thiem that the Austrian won in four sets and Karen Khachanov proved to be too strong in Halle when Kei won just four games.
The Japanese played well at Wimbledon for his first quarter-final appearance at the All England Club, losing to Novak Djokovic in four sets to complete the quarter-final run at all four Majors. Alexander Zverev defeated him in Washington and the results were not that good in Toronto and Cincinnati, looking for a much better result at the US Open.
A former finalist played another great tournament to reach the semis, beating Marin Cilic in the quarters after more than four hours before being completely outplayed by Novak for the fourth time in 2018. This gave Kei a strong boost and he played in the semi-final of Metz and the final in Tokyo, losing to Daniil Medvedev to stay without the trophy in his hands since Memphis 2016.
Roger Federer prevailed over Nishikori in the quarter-final of Shanghai and the Japanese scored more valuable points in Vienna, advancing into the title match where Kevin Anderson halted him in straight sets. Kei was in the quarter-final of Paris as well (he won 19 of the last 25 matches) and he cracked the Top 10 for the first time since September last year, earning enough points to stay ahead of John Isner and replacing Juan Martin del Potro at the ATP Finals where he will play for the fourth time, the first since 2016.
Nishikori is the first player since Robin Soderling in 2009 who won Challenger title and reached the ATP Finals in the same season and his feat is even more impressive when we know that he almost dropped out from the Top 40 in April.
Overall, Kei should be happy with the way he performed this season, bringing his game to the desired level and returning into the Top 10 despite some shaky performances and tough losses, building a solid foundation for even better results in 2019.
Kei Nishikori's best results in 2018: