• Brisbane International

Nishikori: Australian Open could come too soon

ESPN staff
January 7, 2015
Kei Nishikori saw off American Steve Johnson on Wednesday © Getty Images

Kei Nishikori admits he may not be ready to claim his first grand slam title at the Australian Open, after making a winning start to the new season in Brisbane.

The 25-year-old Japanese player set Asian benchmarks during a breakout 2014, reaching his first grand slam final at the US Open and rising to a year-end No.5 ranking.

After a first-round bye, second seed Nishikori needed only 80 minutes to reach the second round of the Brisbane International, serving out a 6-4 7-5 victory on his fourth match point against American Steve Johnson.

It was the perfect start as he builds towards the first major of 2015, which begins on January 19 in Melbourne, and Nishikori knows expectations in his home country will be higher this year.

"Yeah, maybe they do [have expectations]. I really need a couple more years to get more experience and get stronger mentally, physically, everything," he said. "But I think I'm getting really close, so hopefully I can bring more good news to Japan."

Three players ruled the men's game for nine years, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic combining for 34 of the 38 major titles leading into the US Open in September.

The four exceptions were Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open, Andy Murray's wins at the 2012 US Open and Wimbledon in 2013, and Stan Wawrinka's victory at the Australian Open in 2014.

None of those players reached the final at Flushing Meadows, though, with Marin Cilic beating Nishikori for the title. Both men, along with Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov, are widely tipped to be among the next generation of stars.

"We are the ones coming next. We are getting really close from last year," Nishikori said. "For sure it's going to happen this year."

Fourth seed Dimitrov had a more difficult opener in Brisbane, fending off two match points in the tiebreaker before beating regular practice partner Jeremy Chardy of France 3-6 6-4 7-6(8) in 2½ hours. Dimitrov saved one match point with an ace and then went ahead when Chardy fired consecutive double-faults from 6-5.

"I stayed in there, stayed really positive until the end," Dimitrov said, adding that he wasn't expecting such a gruelling opener but was happy to "get straight to business".

Martin Klizan of Slovakia beat Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine 1-6 7-6(6) 7-6(7) in an earlier second-round match.

In women's singles, Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain secured a 5-7 6-3 6-4 win over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia, and Russia's Alla Kudryavtseva beat Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 4-6 6-3 6-3.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki beat US teenager Taylor Townsend 6-1 7-6(4) and Venus Williams reached the quarter-finals with a 6-4 6-1 win over Kurumi Nara.

After winning the first set comfortably, Wozniacki had to recover from 5-2 down, saving two set points and winning the second in a tiebreaker to reach a quarter-final against Julia Goerges. Third-seeded Williams will next face Russia's Elena Vesnina, who had a 6-3 6-1 win over Ana Konjuh.

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