Head overseas to train, Nishikori urges Asians

Kei Nishikori of Japan hits a return against Jeremy Chardy of France in their men’s singles match on day three of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 18, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS /

Japan’s Kei Nishikori urged Asia’s young tennis players to head to Europe or the United States to realise their potential after reaching the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday.

The fifth seed, who toiled for over three-and-a-half hours in a first-round five-setter with Andrey Kuznetsov, won 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in just over two hours against 72nd-ranked Chardy.

It was Nishikori’s fourth straight victory over the Frenchman and earned him a place in the third round in Melbourne for the seventh year in a row.

Nishikori, who moved to the US when he was 14 to fast-track his career at an academy in Florida, advised Asia’s up-and-coming players to follow his lead.

“I was really lucky that I moved to the US and was able to hit with all the top players in IMG Academy,” Nishikori said.

“I think that helps a lot to see how you’re playing. I realised that when I was young. It was really a big step for me.”

Nishikori said while it wasn’t impossible to win a Grand Slam or break into the top 10 while based in Asia, it was easier to do from elsewhere.

“I think it’s still tough, based on Asia. It’s so much travelling and I’m not sure if there are good practice partners or a chance to hit with the top players,” he said.

“Definitely it’s not easy. Yeah, for me, if I (was a) coach I would suggest to go to Europe or the US for practice when you are junior or when you are really young.”

Nishikori, who was backed by plenty of exuberant Japanese support at Hisense Arena, will face Slovak qualifier Lukas Lacko in the next round.

“It was definitely much better than my first match. There was many up and downs in second set and also in the third set. I was focused when I needed the game,” said Nishikori, who had his serve broken three times by Chardy.

Nishikori is looking to improve on his three quarter-final appearances at the Australian Open, losing to Andy Murray in 2012, Stan Wawrinka in 2015 and Novak Djokovic last year.

Nishikori became the first Asian man to contest a Grand Slam final when he lost to Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open after defeating three top-10 players –- Milos Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic along the way.

Nishikori broke Chardy’s serve seven times in the match and had 18 break point opportunities, indicating his superiority over the Frenchman.