By Arlyn Gajilan
(Reuters) – There are still four Grand Slam events that will be contested before medals can be won at the Tokyo Olympics but as far as Kei Nishikori is concerned, all roads from now on lead to one destination.
“For me it (the Olympics) will be the biggest event of the year,” Nishikori told Reuters after reaching the second round of the U.S. Open on Monday.
“I want to peak for the Olympics, so I may have to change a few things to prepare properly.”
That may include Nishikori making changes to his 2020 summer hardcourt season.
“I usually play Washington and a full summer but I’ll have to be careful with my schedule,” said the world number seven.
Being physically prepared is not Nishikori’s only concern.
The 29-year-old has long called Bradenton, Florida, home largely because living outside Japan affords him some much-needed anonymity.
That is not the case whenever he returns to Tokyo or anywhere else in his native country.
Nishikori is one of Japan’s most recognised faces and is not able to walk the streets without bodyguards keeping fans and members of the media at bay.
His name and image are plastered on a variety of different products. His fans can drive a special edition “Kei” Jaguar, eat Nissin Nishikori Noodles, or book flights on Kei-branded Japan Airlines planes.
What does he plan do to do insulate himself from the weight of expectation he is likely to receive at next year’s Games?
“I will need to keep things simple and take my mind off tennis,” he said.
“I will probably play video games.” His current favorites, Splatoon and “anything on Nintendo Switch.”
Nishikori made history in 2014 when he became the first man representing an Asian nation to contest a Grand Slam final. He won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, becoming the first Japanese man to win a tennis medal in 96 years.
There has been plenty of speculation that he will form a mixed doubles dream team with world number one Naomi Osaka.
But Nishikori, who has committed to playing men’s doubles at the Olympics with Ben McLachlan, seemed to play down chances of teaming up with Osaka as he did not want to ruin his medal chances by over exerting himself.
“Tokyo is very hot and humid in the summer,” said Nishikori. “I’ll have to be careful.”
While the Olympics is fast approaching, Nishikori has not forgotten about his regular day job.
When asked whether he’d prefer an Olympic gold or a slam, Nishikori said: “I’d like both.”
(Reporting by Arlyn Gajilan, editing by Pritha Sarkar)