Healthy Nishikori back in Australian Open round of 16

Kei Nishikori of Japan receives treatment from a trainer during his third round match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 22, 2016.(AP Photo/Vincent Thian)
AP

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Kei Nishikori came to the Australian Open this year hoping to put his injury-ravaged 2015 season behind him.

Just five matches into the season, though, spectators at Margaret Court Arena cringed at a familiar sight on Friday: Nishikori plopped down in his chair during a changeover, grabbed his heavily taped right wrist and called for the trainer.

The wrist turned out to be fine, and the seventh-seeded Nishikori went on to win his match over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the round of 16 at Melbourne Park for the fifth straight year.

''Actually, I had (the same problem) two years ago,'' he said. ''I needed to tape my wrist because, you know, I have some issues there. So maybe it came back a little bit, but should be OK for the next one.''

Given how many injuries he's had to deal with during his nine-year pro career, Nishikori has reason to be cautious. And after a difficult end to last season, he's trying to take a more proactive approach to his health to minimize the toll on his body from the long tennis season and his punishing style of play.

During the off-season, he said, he spent 10 days in California and Florida doing intense physical training with coaches Dante Bottini and Michael Chang to improve his strength and conditioning. He's also planning to pay more attention to his rehab throughout the year, particularly during tournaments.

''I think you cannot stop (getting) injuries. I don't think it's going to happen for me,'' he said. ''(I) try to have good treatment and good training during the tour. Try to have less injuries. Try to be healthy all the time. When it happens, it happens. You know, so try not to get sad and try to be positive all the time.''

This was easier said than done last year when a litany of health issues prevented Nishikori from building on his breakthrough run the 2014 U.S. Open final and his new position in the top 5 in the rankings.

Nishikori reached the quarterfinals at the Australian and French Opens and won two other tournaments to start the season. But then his body started to betray him. A calf injury forced him to retire from his matches at the Gerry Weber Open and Wimbledon in June, followed by a hip injury that forced him out of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in August.

After a first-round loss at the U.S. Open, there were two more withdrawals in Basel (shoulder) and Paris (abdomen).

''That was unfortunate,'' he said, ''but actually (the injuries are) less and less every year. I'm a little more positive than a few years ago.''

If his health holds up, Nishikori could match his best result at Melbourne Park with a win against No. 9 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round.

He has a 4-2 record against the Frenchman, but the two have split their two Grand Slam meetings. Nishikori beat Tsonga at the same stage of the Australian Open in 2012, but Tsonga knocked him out in the French Open quarters last year. Both matches went five sets.

''He's going to be tough, tough opponent,'' Nishikori said. ''You know, we played last year in the French and I almost came back, but he raise his level in the fifth. It was really tough loss for me, so I hope I can revenge here.''