The Nitto ATP Finals pitch together the top players from the past 12 months in a season-ending finale in London.
Nishikori a key Challenger
At the start of the season Kei Nishikori opted to skip the Australian Open in order to make his comeback from a persistent wrist injury at the Challenger Tour level.
The Japanese talisman took the title in Dallas, USA, and nine months on has defeated his idol Roger Federer.
Djokovic might have scooped the ‘comeback of the year,’ but Nishikori has posted 20 victories since the US Open, including two finals on tour.
"I'm glad to win, it is never easy to play with my idol, it is always a big challenge against him, so it was great to win," said Nishikori, having grasped his chance at the O2 Arena against an under-par Federer. "I had to change something for sure.”
Federer won their two recent meetings, but Nishikori turned the tables in London with canny use of serve and volley.
One particular astonishing re-directed backhand winner down the line proved the world No.9’s robust defence and searing shot-making was intact.
A bold decision early on
The seventh seed snapped a six-match losing streak against the Swiss maestro 7-6(4), 6-3 to launch into the ascendancy in Group Lleyton Hewitt.
“I'm really happy for him that he qualified for this event - not taking me out today - but I'm happy for him because he started playing challengers,” declared Federer. Hailing his opponent’s 2018 efforts. “That was a bold decision early on. Yeah, that deserves credit and respect. I think we all have that for Kei because he's a great fighter.”
Federer was perplexed by his wayward form, describing his recent practices as “a bit all over the place.” Well, the six-time champion will need an instant response on Tuesday facing Dominic Thiem.