DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - Kei Nishikori is confident his Japanese compatriot Naomi Osaka will learn to cope with pressure as she deals with her new elite status in tennis.
Nishikori, playing as the top seed at the Dubai Championships starting on Monday ahead of seven-time champion Roger Federer, has already traveled down the same path of national superstardom.
But he believes that the painfully shy 21-year-old ranks ahead of him as a national sporting hero after winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at New York and Melbourne and igniting fresh tennis hysteria across the Pacific.
“It’s much more than me, maybe a year ago she wasn’t ranked top 10. Suddenly everything changes: she’s No. 1, I’ve (only) been top-three before,” Nishikori said.
“There is more pressure, for sure. Being No. 1, winning Grand Slams, that’s something I never had before. It’s a bit different. It’s more than me, I think.”
The 28-year-old said Osaka will eventually find her way into a public comfort zone.
“I’m sure she’s going to adapt. She just needs the time,” he said. “She has great mental, very strong, very calm. She doesn’t panic too much.
“I’m sure in time she will get used to it. It’s unfortunate she lost here (in the second round of last week’s women’s tournament to Kristina Mladenovic) but I’m sure she’s okay.
“She’s going to be winning more Grand Slams.”
The top Asian in the men’s game, based in the U.S. like Osaka, is playing Dubai for the first time as he shakes up his 21019 schedule.
Nishikori arrived in the country after reaching the semifinals this month in Rotterdam, losing to Stan Wawrinka.
He said that he is looking forward to a fresh ATP experience.
“It was always comfortable to play this week Acapulco. I used to play Memphis all the time, it was easier for me to play on the US side,” said Nishikori.
“But I always wanted to come here. Schedule-wise it wasn’t easy. Something new. It’s fun, so I chose to play here.”
Nishikori spent part of 2018 injured, starting his season a month late on the ATP Challenger Tour. He started 2019 with the Brisbane trophy, his 12th title.
The sixth-ranked Nishikori will begin his Dubai campaign in the first round against Benoit Paire. He has defeated the Frenchman in five of seven matches.