Tokyo: Kei Nishikori admitted he feared injury had ended his career before he bounced back from surgery and a plunge down the rankings to win his second career title in historic fashion at the Japan Open.
After his fabulous 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-0 win over huge-serving Milos Raonic, which made him the ATP event's first home winner, Nishikori, 22, recalled the dark days of 2009 when he missed most of the season with right elbow surgery.
"I wondered if I could continue to play. My ranking went down to over 100. But every player has to cope with an injury. I just want to keep myself healthy," said the world number 17.
Just a year before his surgery, Nishikori had burst on to the scene by winning the 2008 Delray Beach title, sharply raising expectations that Asia had uncovered a potential world-beater.
But since the injury, his recovery has been steady. He was ranked 98th at the end of 2010 and 25th at the end of 2011.
This year, Asia's number one achieved his best Grand Slam result by reaching the Australian Open quarter-finals. He also made it to the last eight at the London Olympics before losing to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro.
Nishikori, who beat world number six Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals, now hopes he can build on the Tokyo title by going deep at another hardcourt Grand Slam or winning one of the prestigious Masters tournaments.
"My favourite surface is hard courts, for sure. I also defeated a top-10 player this week. So it was a very good tournament for me, looking forward to the following tournaments," said Nishikori.
"Hopefully, I can reach the last eight in the Australian Open or the US Open and win the Masters tournament," he added Nishikori.
Nishikori also recalled his days as a young, autograph-hunting tennis fan at the Japan Open and hoped Sunday's win would inspire a new generation of Japanese players.
"I think my dream in my childhood days gave me the motivation to do well in tennis, so I will be very happy if children start to follow my footsteps after this victory," he said.