As a diminutive player who concedes height to almost every player he meets, Japanese star Yoshihito Nishioka is a master at thinking laterally to topple the giants of the tennis tour.
The detailed plotting of the 27-year-old, who is the 8th seed for the ATP 250 Zhuhai Championships beginning on Wednesday, worked wonders in the first half of the season.
The left-hander, who defends superbly and excels when through changing the tempo and trajectory of rallies, was surging to a top 20 ranking breakthrough midway through the year.
“I don’t play with power, so I have to think about how to play my points, and always have to make big plans as to how to beat my opponents before I go on to the court,” he said.
“Sometimes I think my tennis is interesting to watch, because some other players don’t do it like I do. That is the reason some of the bigger players don’t like it, that they start to panic a little bit.
“But that is the way I play. I have to do things differently.”
Nishioka peaked at a ranking of 24 in June after reaching the second weeks of the Australian and French Opens for the first time in what he considered a big step forward in his career.
But the rise in rankings also led to an increase in the expectations Nishioka placed on himself and, as he said in Zhuhai on Monday, resulted in his brain working overtime.
“It is always special when you do well in a grand slam and it was my first time in the Rd of 16 at the Aussie Open and also at the French Open. It was a great feeling,” he said.
“But that was interesting, because I started to feel more pressure because I had to keep the seeding, keep the ranking. I was thinking too much. I started to feel that pressure.
“That is the reason that, after the French Open, I didn’t do so well on the tour. That is something I have learned from this rise and I think I had to change (things) a little bit.”
The No.1 ranked player in the Asian region hit a lean spell after Roland Garros, with his only triumph in six subsequent tournaments coming in the Cincinnati Masters.
“I was very close to the top 20 but when I thought too much about what it is, then (I put) a little bit too much pressure on myself, (which was) different from normal,” he said.
Nishioka said he is delighted to be back competing in Asia, where he has recorded his best results on the ATP Tour.
He claimed his maiden ATP Tour title in Shenzhen in 2018 and last year won the Korea Open, defeating then World No.2 Casper Ruud on the way to the championship in Seoul.
The Zhuhai Championships marks the return of tennis to China after a hiatus and Nishioka believes the swing through Asia, which includes the Japan Open next month, suits him.
He faces a challenging opening round match in Zhuhai against French player Terence Atmane, who last week won an ATP Tour Challenger title in Guangzhou.
But Nishioka is feeling comfortable on the hard courts at the Hengqin International Tennis Center, which hosts the Zhuhai Championships beginning on Wednesday, September 20.
“It is always good to come back for the Asian swing and it is the first time the ATP Tour events are back in China after COVID, so I really am very excited to be able to play here,” he said.
“I won my first ATP Tour event in China and I have played well here. It is always enjoyable to play in China and to compete in Asia again.
“If I can play much, much better, that will be great.”