Determined to buck the trend of the modern-day majors belonging to the tall man, Kei Nishikori is looking up – in terms of experience, at least – to the greatest height-challenged grand slam champion of the past 25 years ahead of his pseudo “home” slam next week in Melbourne.
At 175cm, former world No.2 Michael Chang is three centimetres shorter than his Japanese charge but has the 1989 French Open to his name and reached major finals in Melbourne and New York in 1996.
Only world No.3 David Ferrer is shorter than the 178cm Nishikori in the top 50 and since Chang’s Roland Garros breakthrough, only one major has been claimed by a player under the 6ft (180cm) mark – Argentine Gaston Gaudio at the 2004 French Open.
Having stood close to cracking the top 10 in July when he reached a career-high of No.11 in the world, Nishikori believes hiring Chang for 17 to 20 weeks of the 2014 season will give him the edge to establish himself among the world’s top 10.
“Yeah we started December. We practised at his home two weeks and yeah he’s giving me a lot of good advice and it’s getting better,” Nishikori said from Kooyong this week, where he will contest the eight-man AAMI Classic event for the third time.
“Nothing I can say too much, but we’ve been working pretty hard and I see good progress. It’s been working well.”
A solid run to the semifinals in Brisbane last week, where he lost to eventual champion Lleyton Hewitt in stifling humidity, has the 23-year-old confident he is playing his way into form on the eve of the Australian Open, the site of his best results on the big stages.
“It was a good start I think. Lleyton played a really good match against me and also he won the tournament. I played really well; good three matches and good preparation for the Open,” Nishikori said.
“It was extremely hot this year. It was 40 degrees, it was tough conditions but I always enjoy playing there. Australia is I feel not really home, but it’s still so near to Asia so I feel really comfortable playing (in) Australia.”
It was in Brisbane where he spoke of how Chang’s advice could prove pivotal to taking his game to that next level.
“He’s not the tall guy; same as me,” Nishikori said. “I mean, he’s American, but he’s half Asian. (I) do think we can know more stuff. Yeah, I think we (are) doing great.”
A run to the last eight at the Australian Open in 2012 remains the Japanese player’s best grand slam result and with a fourth-round finish last year to back it up, he has high hopes of featuring again in the second week at what he considers the closest to his home slam.
“Yeah for sure. I have best result here (at) Australian Open; quarterfinal two years ago and hopefully can go further than that but will have to play well here,” he said.
“I always enjoy playing Australian Open, even Brisbane and here and play good so hoping I can do well next week. This is going to be an important week for me, playing three or four matches here.”