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Nishikori Revelling In Melbourne Park Pressure

Melbourne, Australia

Nishikori© Getty ImagesKei Nishikori has enjoyed his best Grand Slam results at the Australian Open.

Glancing at Kei Nishikori’s career highlights, every year since 2010 begins with the same sentence: “the top Asian player from Japan” followed by a career-topping feat. It’s been constant improvement.

Carrying the weight of Japan’s tennis hopes has become part of the routine for Nishikori, and at the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific it is a weight he has thrived on. He recorded his best Grand Slam result in Melbourne in 2012, winning three memorable five-set blockbusters en route to a quarter-final loss to Andy Murray, his legs all but out of miles.  

Fresh off a semi-final result at the Brisbane International and victory at the AAMI Classic exhibition in Kooyong last week, beating favoured Czech Tomas Berdych in a straight-sets final, the 24 year old’s 2014 highlights are set to follow the same rising path. 

“I think that's going to help a little bit to get some confidence. It was a great match against Tomas yesterday,” Nishikori.

Nishikori doesn’t shy away from his status in Asia, beginning work with legendary American star Michael Chang in 2014. 

Performing for Japan has always been a high priority for Nishikori and with countryman Go Soeda pushing towards the Top 100—currently No. 112 on the Emirates ATP Rankings—he’s hoping to share Japan’s tennis hopes, and hopefully the ensuing successes.

The task facing Soeda though, is not an easy one: a first round against three-time Australian Open runner-up, Andy Murray

“If he can be aggressive. Andy is really steady on the groundstrokes. It's not going to be an easy match. Hopefully he wins,” Nishikori said of the match-up.

“I think he started playing more aggressive, trying to come in more, hitting big forehands. He should be Top 100 and he can be a Top 50 player. Hopefully he can come back again to Top 50 and we have a strong Japan team.”

The 16th seed is facing a task of his own in Melbourne, finding himself in the top half of the draw that boasts 35 Grand Slam titles and a path lined with two local hopes and World No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the fourth round. 

If Nishikori manages to overcome Australia’s Marinko Matosevic in the first round, he could face a third-round encounter with the country’s veteran Lleyton Hewitt, who outlasted Nishikori in three sets in the Brisbane semi-finals just one week ago. 

“It's going to be a tough match against Marinko on Tuesday. Hopefully I can have a good match.

“I only see Marinko in the first round. But, Lleyton is playing great. He beat me in Brisbane. He also won it. He’s 32, but he's still in good shape.

“It's good to see some players like him still playing good. Hopefully I can play good and beat him.” 

Nishikori will need to apply all the confidence afforded by his rapid success in the dawn of 2014, but pressure is something the Japanese star has proven not only to handle, but to revel in.

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