FP – Australian James Duckworth will be Kei Nishikori’s first hardcourt test in Washington in a campaign the Japanese world No.5 hopes will lead to another long run at the US Open.
Young Sydneysider Duckworth accounted for American Ryan Harrison 6-1 7-6 (7-4) at the ATP tournament in the American capital on Monday to book a second-round clash with Nishikori, who enjoyed a first-round bye.
There was another loss, however, for fellow Australian Marinko Matosevic, a 6-3 6-3 opening-round defeat to Belgian Ruben Bemelmans compounding an already disappointing season.
Nishikori last year became the first Asian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final when he met Marin Cilic in the decider at Flushing Meadow.
The 25-year-old says he feels stronger, smarter and more confident as he begins the quest to repeat the feat.
Four weeks out from the start of the US Open, Nishikori will get the first feel for his hardcourt form on Tuesday when he takes on Duckworth.
“My tennis is going a good way. I’m feeling stronger and more confident,” Nishikori said. “Looking forward to playing this week.”
Croatia’s Cilic beat Nishikori in the championship match in New York last year, but he has renewed confidence that he has what it takes to return to a Grand Slam final and perhaps make more history by winning it.
“The biggest thing was experience… I learned a lot of things,” Nishikori said.
“This year is different. Mentally I got a little stronger. Beating Novak (Djokovic), Stan (Wawrinka), top 10 guys, I could believe in myself a little bit more. I was staying tough. I hope I can play good tennis these next few weeks.”
Even though Rafael Nadal’s ranking has slid due to injury, Nishikori sees the top four of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Washington top seed Andy Murray as the top of the tennis world for the moment, even though Wawrinka has two Grand Slam titles and he is knocking on the door.
“I hope I can be the next one,” Nishikori said. “New players are coming to the top 10 but the top four is still there. Little by little we’re coming through. It’s good for tennis.”
Nishikori, a quarter-finalist at the French and Australian Opens, withdrew from Wimbledon after the second round with a calf injury, but says he is at full strength now.
“I’m feeling pretty well, had a good preparation before coming here, about three weeks,” Nishikori said. “I took one week after after Wimbledon. My leg was fine after that.”
Aside from Duckworth, another three Australians will be in action in Washington on Tuesday: compatriots Lleyton Hewitt will take on John-Patrick Smith while Sam Groth goes up against Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.