Modesty typically underpins Kei Nishikori’s self-analysis.
So when the Japanese star speaks with subtle praise of his efforts after a near flawless showing to reach Sunday’s title match, his prospective opponent, Daniil Medvedev, would do well to take note.
It has been nearly three years since the former world No.4 has lifted a champion’s trophy.
Nine finals have passed and 51 tournaments since his 11th career title in Memphis in February 2016.
For the 22-year-old Medvedev, 2018 was a breakout year, highlighted by three trophies, one of which came against Nishikori in the Tokyo final.
Motivation is high for the Japanese star to avenge that home soil defeat and to go one better than his 2017 runner-up effort against Grigor Dimitrov, a rival he defeated en route in the quarter-finals.
“Today’s match was almost perfect, I would say. Serve and return was phenomenal,” Nishikori said after conceding just four games to Jeremy Chardy in Saturday’s semi-final.
“I played very solid today. Everything was good.”
The 29-year-old has Naomi Osaka to thank for lifting some of the burden in becoming the first Japanese Grand Slam champion.
And while a major breakthrough of his own is still high on his radar, after a year of rebuilding, Nishikori has made it clear his initial goals are a return to the top five and to break his title drought.
Anything less than the silverware in Brisbane on Sunday he would consider as coming up short.
“I think it’s going to come some day soon,” the Brisbane International 2017 runner-up said.
“Last year I had many great results, and maybe I didn’t get a title, but was able to finish top 10.
“I am trying to win every final, of course, and hope I can get it sometime [soon].”
Having missed the Australian summer of tennis last season, Nishikori made a tentative return from wrist surgery in a pair of lower-level Challenger events.
Slowly but surely he has rediscovered form and confidence, reaching three finals in 2018 in Monte Carlo, Tokyo and Vienna, as well as a Wimbledon quarter-final and US Open semi-final — falling to Novak Djokovic both times.
He split his two meetings with Medvedev last season. The Russian ended former world No.5 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s comeback on Saturday night, adding to his earlier victories over 2016 Brisbane champion Milos Raonic and two-time champion Andy Murray.
“Daniil is playing very solid from last year,” Nishikori said. “I think he has potential to be in top 10 soon.”
Fifth seed and 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova turned in her performance of the tournament on Saturday night to quash the all-out aggression of Croatian Donna Vekic.
The Czech was appearing in her third straight Brisbane semi-final and a title would go some way to boosting her form ahead of a tilt at a maiden Grand Slam title in Melbourne.
Her opponent, Lesia Tsurenko has hopes of becoming just the fourth unseeded champion in the women’s event after Petra Kvitova, Kaia Kanepi and Victoria Azarenka.
The Ukrainian has runs on the board in Brisbane before as a semi-finalist in 2013 when she was a lucky loser from qualifying.
On Saturday, she pulled off a semi-final boilover to scuttle US Open champion Naomi Osaka’s chances to reach her fifth and biggest career final.
“I think that it will be a big challenge for me anyway, and also it’s the first Premier [level] tournament final for me,” Tsurenko said. “So I’m sure I will be nervous a little bit, but it makes it even more exciting.”
The men’s doubles final will open Sunday’s finals session with fourth seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury taking on Marcus Daniell and Wesley Koolhof.