Kei urges young Asians to follow his lead and head West

MELBOURNE • 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 yesterday.

The fifth seed, who toiled for over 31/2 hours in a first-round five-setter with Andrey Kuznetsov, won 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in just over two hours against France's Jeremy Chardy.

It was his fourth straight victory over the world No. 72 and it 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," said the world No. 5. "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."

He added that while it was not impossible to win a Grand Slam or break into the top 10 while based in Asia, it was easier to attempt the feat from elsewhere.

"I think it's still tough, based in 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 to 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 were many up and downs in the second set and also in the third set," said the 27-year-old.

"But I was focused when I needed the game."

He 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.

He 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.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2017, with the headline 'Kei urges young Asians to follow his lead and head West'. Print Edition | Subscribe