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Japan’s rising son Kei Nishikori feels weight of expectation

For Kei Nishikori, “Project 45” has transformed into “Project 10.”The former was the 23-year-olds mission to topple the highest tennis ranking ever held by a Japanese male, Shuzo Matsuoka, who hit world No. 46 back in July 1992.Nishikori smashed through that particular barrier towards the end of 2011 and has enjoyed a formidable few years on Tour, beating the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Japans rising son now sits in the lofty position of world No. 11 — his highest ever ranking — and is tantalizingly poised to gatecrash the top 10.

20111007034314981But with success comes expectation.
This surge towards the game’s pinnacle has elevated Nishikori to rock star-like status in his home country, its population clamoring for their first ever grand slam champion.
“I try not to think too much because if I start thinking then I feel pressure myself,” Nishikori told CNN’s Human to Hero series.
“I think people have started thinking about me winning a grand slam or getting to the top ten but it might take some time.
Nishikori left Japan for Bollettieri’s Florida academy aged just 13 without a grasp of English, but the intensive work on his game bore fruit within five years as he lifted his first ATP Tour title in Delray Beach.
According to the man who has coached a phalanx of the game’s greats like Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Boris Becker and the Williams sisters, Nishikori is “a shot maker.”
Bollettieri told CNN. “When he’s on, he can beat anybody in the world.”
Djokovic and Federer can testify to that.
Both victories served as proof Nishikori has what it takes to prosper at the game’s top table.

In 2012 he became the first Japanese player to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 80 years and then went on to win the Japan Open — the first home-grown talent to do so in the tournament’s 41-year history.
He may have lost to eventual champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round at this year’s French Open, but he was the first Japanese player to get to that stage since 1938.
I sometimes feel the pressure from a lot of things — my team, my country, my fans — but you have to handle it well
Kei Nishikori

Nishikori clearly relishes testing himself against the best players of what is widely regarded as a golden generation.
“I love to play against the top ten guys,” he said. “Beating Roger this year and beating Djokovic two years ago — that is why I am playing tennis, to play those top 10 guys and to beat them.
“I still haven’t beat Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray, there are more challenges to come to play those guys.”
At world No. 11 he is the highest ranked Asian male player by a distance — the next in line is Yen-Hsun Lu from Chinese Tapei in 60th — and Nishikori wants to blaze a trail like Li Na who won China’s first ever grand slam at the women’s French Open in 2011.

“I am trying to get to be the most successful player in Asia,” Nishikori added. “In tennis not many players get to the top 10 — I think only a few in the past.
“It’s still weird for me to think I’m the number one player in Asia, because when I was young I couldn’t think I’d be the number one player in Japan or even Asia.

“But now I am and I have to receive it in my mind, my dream is coming and hopefully I can go further. I think Li Na did a great job. Hopefully I can be the first one to lead the young guys.”
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Nishikori still refers to…
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