Tennis: Kei Nishikori wins 2014 Malaysian Open


With Juan Martin Del Potro still out due to a nagging wrist injury and Milos Raonic resting after the U.S. Open and his leadership of Canada to a Davis Cup playoff victory over Colombia, the spotlight shone even more brightly on Asia’s top player, Kei Nishikori, in Kuala Lumpur. For the 24-year-old, the Malaysian Open marked his resumption of tournament play after becoming the first Japanese man to reach a Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open. It was also his first test to see if he could maintain the form that saw him knock out three Top 5 players in New York – Raonic, Stanislas Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic – before falling to eventual champion Marin Cilic.

Following a whirlwind couple of weeks that included press appearances in New York; endorsement obligations with Jaguar and UNIQLO in Japan; a junior tennis players’ clinic in Hong Kong; and meet-and-greets in Kuala Lumpur, Nishikori managed to win the title, defeating Julien Benneteau at a raucous sold-out Putra Stadium, 7-6 (4), 6-4, in one hour, 47 minutes.

Like his three-set win over Jarkko Nieminen in the semifinals, Nishikori’s victory over Benneteau was a seesaw encounter. Benneteau quickly went up a break in the first set, then endured some long service games as Nishikori missed out on his first nine break point opportunities. Perhaps, though, that pile of lost chances gradually wore down Benneteau’s serve. With the Frenchman serving for the first set at 5-4, 30-40, Nishikori finally converted.

Benneteau continued to apply the pressure in the second set. After double-faulting, Nishikori saved two break points to hold serve for 2-2. He later wasted no time in capitalizing on his first opening in the seventh game, breaking Benneteau at love to go up 4-3 in the second set – a lead that would hold through to the end. Nishikori’s third title of 2014 denied Benneteau his very first, with the 32-year-old losing three straight finals appearances in Kuala Lumpur and finishing as the runner-up in 10 ATP singles events.

Throughout the week, just as in New York, Nishikori’s box included co-coaches Michael Chang and Dante Bottini. Chang’s mentorship of Nishikori continues to receive enormous attention, and at the Malaysian Open, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 1989 French Open champion himself was still competing as he appeared alongside Nishikori at a photo shoot in front of the Petronas Towers; visited the KPJ Tawakkal Specialist Hospital with Leander Paes and Benjamin Becker; and ran a tennis clinic for the Malaysian Davis Cup team. But it is Bottini, 35, who continues to serve as Nishikori’s main coach at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., while Chang’s role is part-time.

“We’ve been working [together] for four years now and it’s been working really well,” Nishikori said in response to a question asked by Meniscus Magazine about Bottini after the semifinals. “He’s definitely made my game…He’s worked very hard. Sometimes he can be tough but he’s a very relaxed guy [when] not on the courts. He’s easy to hang out with and also a great coach. It’s been working well with Dante and Michael.”


Photos: 2014 Malaysian Open singles finals
all photos by Christiaan Hart for Meniscus Magazine


Videos: 2014 Malaysian Open singles finals (match point, trophy presentation, press conference)
all videos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine