Dubai: Kei Nishikori, Asia’s best men’s tennis player, is optimistic that Naomi Osaka — the new world No. 1 on the women’s Tour from his country — will come to terms with life at the top.
Nishikori, men’s top seed at this week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, can relate to what his countrywoman is going through after climbing to the summit of the women’s game last week.
Osaka won two Grand Slams on either side of her 21st birthday, but bowed out in Dubai to Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic last week.
Nishikori is the first male player representing an Asian country to reach a Grand Slam singles final, and he also became the first man from the continent to qualify for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals.
Being the only male Japanese player ever to be ranked inside the top-five in singles after his career-high No. 4 singles ranking in March 2015, Nishikori can sympathise with what Osaka is going through at the moment.
“I think it’s much more than me. She’s won two Grand Slams in-a-row, and maybe a year ago she wasn’t even in the top-10. Suddenly everything has changed as she’s No.1. I am sure everything is different and there are many pressures from the fact that she is No. 1 and she’s won Grand Slams,” Nishikori pointed.
“The pressure on her is definitely more than me. She is mentally very strong and very calm. She doesn’t panic too much and I’m sure in time, she will get used to it. I’m sure she’s going to adapt. She just needs the time,” he added.
With 11 ATP singles titles and a runner-up spot at the 2014 US Open against his name, Nishikori makes his Dubai debut when he faces Frenchman Benoit Paire on Tuesday. “He [Paire] can always be dangerous. I love his backhand as it’s one of the best backhands. I’m sure it’s going to be tough one,” the 29-year-old disclosed.
Given the mix of new players and the older ones faring well, the world number six from Japan is expecting a tough season ahead. “I think everybody gets physically stronger and also they have more passion to enter the top-10. You see many young guys are coming up last year like Sascha [Zverev], Domi [Thiem]. I think everything has started changing a little bit,” Nishikori observed.
“I’m sure the guys who are 34, 35, 36 can still play. They still growing but so are the young guys. You see some of them doing really well with some new young guys winning 250s and 500s now. I’m sure it’s going to be another interesting year,” he added.