PARIS – Despite being one of the smallest players on the Tour, Kei Nishikori's performances are not going unnoticed at home.
Nishikori, who is bidding to become the first Asian-born player to qualify for the season-ending ATP Finals, is enjoying a breakthrough season in which he claimed four titles and reached the U.S. Open final.
Although he lost in straight sets to Marin Cilic at Flushing Meadows, the 5-foot-10 player's popularity reached new heights following his excellent run in New York.
"It's been big change, especially in Japan," Nishikori said after beating local favorite and former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 at the Paris Masters on Thursday. "It was a little bit crazy when I went back Japan. There were a lot of people that showed up in airport. But it's a really exciting thing for me."
The 24-year-old Nishikori is in sixth position in the race for the season finale and is now just one match away from booking his spot at the O2 from Nov. 9-16.
Three spots are still up for grabs in the race to London, with Nishikori among those hoping to join the already qualified Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Marin Cilic.
Nishikori, who saved five of the six break points he faced against Tsonga, needs to beat fourth-seeded David Ferrer in the quarterfinals to be guaranteed of flying to London.
"I think it's great that I'm enjoying this moment, for the first time I have the chance to go London," he said. "Even if I lose this chance, I did really well this year."
What he is lacking in height, Nishikori said he is making up for in good positioning.
"Sometimes it's not easy to play big guys like Milos (Raonic) and John Isner, but I have something that they don't have," Nishikori said. "I have speed and good footwork, and I think that's tennis. Everybody plays different way, and I think that's the fun thing, also for the crowd."