WASHINGTON – Kei Nishikori has new confidence against the top stars in tennis, thanks to some success on the court and in his work with coach Michael Chang.
Nishikori, enjoying his best ATP season with a repeat title at Memphis and win on Barcelona clay, begins his push toward the U.S. Open this week as the fourth seed at the Washington Open.
“There’s still a big difference in the top five or so. They don’t miss easy shots and don’t give you easy points to win a game,” Nishikori said Tuesday.
“For me, I don’t feel any fear to play them any more after beating them a couple times. I have more confidence now to play the top guys.”
The 24-year-old Japanese star is 2-2 against 17-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, including a win in this year’s Miami quarterfinals, and 1-1 against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, whom he did not play in a Miami semifinal due to a left groin injury.
And while Nishikori is winless in seven matches against second-ranked Rafael Nadal, he pushed Nadal to three sets in the final in Madrid’s clay-court tournament before a back injury forced him to retire.
After losing to Milos Raonic in the fourth round at Wimbledon, Nishikori has rested and put the nagging injuries of a 32-8 season behind him.
“I feel very strong,” he said. “Physically I’m OK. I had a great two weeks of training. Everything is ready for the U.S. Open.”
Nishikori, who opens his bid for a sixth ATP title Wednesday against American Sam Querrey, sees his game improving the longer he works with Chang.
“We changed a couple of things and my tennis is improving,” Nishikori said.
“My serve is getting better, more strong and more high percentage and also groundstrokes, I’m a little more aggressive than before. It’s a little of everything. I need to work on a couple more things to get better.
“I’ll try to use more forehand, try to step in more, look to go to the net. We work on a lot of stuff. I’m stronger on the court.”
At 11th in the world, Nishikori is down from the career-best ninth he reached in May but looking for more as the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows draws closer.
“I’m happy to be in this ranking situation (but) my goal is not the top 10. Trying to go further,” he said.
“The U.S. Open is coming up. If I could get quarterfinals, semifinals, that would be great.”
Nishikori’s only run to the last eight in a Grand Slam event was at the 2012 Australian Open. He was the first Japanese man in 80 years to advance so far at Melbourne before losing to Britain’s Andy Murray.
“I hope I can make another big step,” Nishikori said. “Clay-court season was a little bit of a surprise for me. Usually all the Spanish win in Barcelona and I got the title there. Last year I didn’t do well in these months so it’s a very important few months for me.”
Venus wins first match
Washington — Seven-time Grand Slam singles champion Venus Williams advanced to the second round of the WTA Stanford hard-court tournament Tuesday by defeating Poland’s Paula Kania 6-3, 6-2.
Williams booked a second-round match against world No. 10 Victoria Azarenka at the U.S. Open tuneup.
Another highly anticipated second-round matchup at the event will see world No. 1 Serena Williams, a 17-time Grand Slam champion who exited Wimbledon after struggling with a virus in a weak doubles showing with her sister, face 45th-ranked Czech Karolina Pliskova.
Serbian fifth seed Ana Ivanovic ousted Germany’s Sabine Lisicki 7-6 (7-2), 6-1.