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Tennis: Nishikori’s Kooyong conquest boosts Australian Open confidence

Japan No. 1 Kei Nishikori faces Australian Marinko Matosevic in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday. Photo: Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia.

Kei Nishikori faces Australian Marinko Matosevic in the Australian Open first round. Photo: Ben Solomon/Tennis Australia.

January 12, 2014: Kei Nishikori enjoyed a boost ahead of the Australian Open as the Japanese star emulated the feat of new coach Michael Chang by winning the Kooyong Classic exhibition event, defeating World No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-5.


Chang was in the stands for his charge’s success, having won the title himself three times, while the tournament’s other winners include Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.


“I think that’s going to help a little bit to get some confidence. I really enjoyed the week and I’m very happy to put my name on this trophy along with Michael,” said Nishikori, who lost to Berdych in an earlier group match.


“It was a good match against Tomas, even if I lost to him a couple of days ago. Hopefully we will both have a good start at the Australian Open.”


Nishikori is the 16th seed at the Australian Open and will take on local wildcard Marinko Matosevic on Tuesday in the opening round of ‘The Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific’.


Currently World No. 17 after reaching as high as 11 last June, Nishikori is again Asia’s top men’s singles contender in Melbourne, where two years ago he reached the quarter-finals, his best result at a Grand Slam to date.


Matosevic has never progressed beyond the first round of a major in 11 appearances, but the World No. 54 is coming off a semi-final appearance in Brisbane and a quarter-final run in Sydney.


“It’s going to be a tough match against Marinko. Hopefully I can have a good match,” Nishikori said. “It’s not going to be easy first match. I feel like I’m always playing Australians. I played [Matt] Ebden in Brisbane, played Ebden two years ago, but if I can play like the Kooyong final, I think I have a big chance to win.”


Another Australian, Lleyton Hewitt, looms as a possible third-round opponent for Nishikori, who admitted his admiration for the 32-year-old former World No. 1, who beat him in the Brisbane semi-finals before toppling Federer in the final.


“Lleyton is playing great. He beat me in Brisbane and he also won it. He’s 32, but he’s still in good shape,” he said. “It’s good to see some players like him still playing good. Hopefully I can play good and beat him.”


Hewitt was the youngest ever World No. 1, but Nishikori is now being guided by Chang, the Taiwanese-American who in 1989 became the youngest male to win a Grand Slam, capturing the French Open at 17.


Chang, now 41, reached the Australian Open final in 1996, the year he also reached the US Open final, and Nishikori has been working with the former World No. 2 since December.


“We practised at his home for two weeks and he’s giving me a lot of good advice and it’s getting better,” Nishikori said. “I can’t say too much, but we’ve been working pretty hard and I see good progress. It’s been working well.”


Nishikori also showed support for 29-year-old compatriot Go Soeda, who has a first-round clash with three-time finalist Andy Murray, the fourth seed and reigning Wimbledon champion.


“Go has a chance if he can be aggressive. Hopefully he wins. Andy is really steady on the groundstrokes, so it’s not going to be an easy match,” Nishikori said. “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.”


China No. 1 Wu Di, who won the Asia-Pacific Wildcard Playoff for a second straight year, will take on Kenny De Schepper of France. China No. 2 Zhang Ze, who came through qualifying, faces Spanish 32nd seed Fernando Verdasco.


Taiwan No. 1 Rendy Lu Yen-hsun, 30, will take on compatriot Jimmy Wang Yeu-tzuoo, who came through qualifying, while India No. 1 Somdev Devvarman will play Spain’s 26th seed Feliciano Lopez.


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Sources: ATP, (Dan Imhoff)

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