Effervescent, straight-talking, easygoing, and humble are some of the qualities of Dante Bottini, Kei Nishikori’s longtime coach. Working part-time with superstar Michael Chang, the Argentine has laid low under the radar for many years now, playing a similar role to that of Marian Vajda with Boris Becker and Novak Djokovic… but his force is to be reckoned with. In Bottini’s words, hard work, respect, and synergy have become the key to push Nishikori to the top and keep him there.
BATennis World: Congratulations on an excellent win and an excellent season, qualifying once more for the Masters Cup.
Dante Bottini: I’m happy because we have a pretty solid year at the big events and Masters 1000, which is what we wanted Kei to do. He has been winning smaller tournaments and it makes me happy to see him doing well. Also, he has stayed pretty injury-free compared to other seasons. He is getting better physically, so we are all hoping that he finishes the season strong.
BATW: You have known Kei for many years now. How is working with Michael Chang and how is the relationship between all of you?
DB: It’s a pretty good relationship. [Michael] is very professional. I work with Kei all year long, and Chang joins us for 20 weeks, but we keep in touch, especially because it’s important to communicate the messages to Kei. There is a relationship based on respect, very professional, and we all get along very well. The chemistry is excellent, otherwise it wouldn’t work.
BATW: When talking about you in Japan, I found out that many people didn’t know you are Nishikori’s coach. Even after all those years. Do you feel that people in Japan do not know you sometimes?
DB: Yeah, and some other places as well. It is probably because Chang is more famous among the media. But the last time I was at the Tokyo tournament, many people came by to greet me and ask for autographs… Nevertheless, there are times when people don’t know I’m Kei Nishikori’s coach. For example, when I am in the USA, I think people talk more about Chang because he is famous, just like Boris Becker with Djokovic. For instance, even though Marian Vajda has been working with the Serbian for 12 years, some people still don’t know he is his coach.
BATW: You’ve been doing a great job with Kei. Last year, we asked him about his time in Buenos Aires when you made him play the Golden Swing in order to make his all around game better. So far, so good: champion in Barcelona, final in Madrid, quarters in Roland Garros. What were the steps you took in those early years?
DB: When I started working with Kei, he was at an early stage of his career, developing his game. The first year was all about learning. The second one was about working on his physical and mental game. I knew he could play well on clay because he had won a couple of Challengers and his game had the potential to do well on that surface. He only needed to play more and to “ladillar”, as we Argentines say. [NDLR: Ladillar is Argentinian tennis slang for annoying, bothering, and making it difficult for the rival to compete.] He needed to work more and to mature. I took him to Buenos Aires and it was a good experience. Then we went to Acapulco and it all turned out well for his career.
BATW: How do you manage with Japanese?
DB: I can understand a few words, but I dont understand the language.
BATW: As an Argentine, how do you see the coming Davis Cup final in Zagreb?
DB: It’s going to be very difficult, obviously, but Argentina has good chances. The Argentine team is very solid and confident… When Kei is not playing, I am always supporting a fellow Argentine. I hope they do well.
(Photo: Facebook Kei Nishikori)