• Kyodo

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World No. 6 Kei Nishikori says he’s learned to relax at the Japan Open and is in a confident mood ahead of his defense of the title in Tokyo next week.

“I used to stiffen up on the court but now I have confidence so I hardly feel any pressure at all,” Nishikori, who also won the Tokyo title in 2012, told reporters on Wednesday. “I want the Japanese fans to feel how enjoyable tennis can be.”

In last year’s Japan Open final, Nishikori defeated big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic in three sets, one week after winning the Malaysian Open.

Nishikori, who helped keep Japan in the Davis Cup World Group with a 3-2 win against Colombia earlier this month, has decided not to play in Kuala Lumpur this year.

“This year I will go into (the Japan Open) fully prepared,” he said. “I am undergoing hard practices one after another and I want to start the tournament in even better shape than I’m in now.”

Nishikori, suffered a shocking first-round exit at the U.S. Open this year after making the 2014 final, but he has managed to keep his place among the top 10 players in the world.

“That pleases me more than anything. I have established myself as a player with ability and that is a big step,” said Nishikori.

“Now I want to move one or two steps up. I am not saying on a regular basis, but I think I have to be a presence that can beat the top four or five ranked players in the world.”

The Japan Open gets under way at Ariake Tennis Forest Park on Monday.

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