Kei Nishikori stood on the brink of history after sweeping into the 2014 US Open final, but three years later he is no closer to becoming the first Asian man to win a Grand Slam singles title.
The Japanese star was ruthlessly defeated in straight sets by Marin Cilic in New York to prevent him from emulating Chinese icon Li Na, who conquered Roland Garros in 2011 and the 2014 Australian Open before signalling her retirement.
Nishikori’s run to the 2015 quarter-final at the French Open remains his best showing in Paris, and a turbulent clay-court season for the world number nine has tempered expectations ahead of the year’s second major.
A wrist injury forced Nishikori to withdraw from Barcelona – where he won in 2014 and 2015 – before the problem resurfaced ahead of a quarter-final showdown with Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Masters.
An early loss in Rome, albeit to the mercurial talents of Juan Martin del Potro, hardly reinforced his confidence.
But Nishikori, whose coaching team includes 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, remains a firm believer in his ability to compete with the best on clay.