Japan’s Kei Nishikori affectionately refers to the Australian Open as his “home” Grand Slam tournament. It is, after all, almost in his backyard and the site of his best result at a major to date.
For someone with such an affinity for Australia, he has dealt his fair share of heartache to the host nation’s hopes on home soil in recent years. And while the draw is by no means his own doing – nor should he feel any sympathy for the man standing across the net – he plans on inflicting a little more disappointment on a local player in his first round match this year.
The world No.12, a quarterfinalist in Melbourne two years ago, meets Marinko Matosevic first up and while his late-blooming Australian opponent has never progressed beyond the first round of a major in 11 appearances, he is coming off a semifinal appearance in Brisbane and a quarterfinal run in Sydney.
“Yeah, it's not going to be easy first match and I feel like I always playing Australians,” Nishikori said of playing the world No.54. “I play (Matt) Ebden Brisbane, I played Ebden two years ago, something too, so it's not easy to play, you know … countrymen but if I can play like (the Kooyong final) you know, I have I think big chance to win.”
Nishikori brings confidence into the first major of 2014. He lost to Tomas Berdych last week in the lead-up event at Kooyong before gaining revenge over the Czech in straight sets in the final. The 23-year-old’s name joins the likes of Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Lleyton Hewitt and his new coach, Michael Chang, on the trophy.
Earlier in the week Nishikori spoke of adding the 1989 French Open champion as his coach for 17 to 20 weeks of the 2014 season as he attempts to crack the 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. “Nothing I can say too much, but we’ve been working pretty hard and I see good progress. It’s been working well.”
Another Australian, veteran Lleyton Hewitt, looms as a possible third round opponent for the Japanese player in Melbourne this year.
The very mention of Hewitt playing in a record 18th straight Australian Open last week brought a grin of disbelief to Nishikori’s face.
“Yeah, Lleyton is playing great. He beat me in Brisbane. He also win it. I don't know, he's 32 or 33, but he's still good shape, good playing,” Nishikori said.
“It's good to see, you know, some player like him still playing good. Hopefully I can play good and beat him. But you never know. Hopefully I can win the first one.”
Japan’s favourite son begins his quest for an Australian-slaying run on Tuesday.