DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Feb 24 – 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, who is top seed at the Dubai Championships this week ahead of Roger Federer, believes that the painfully shy 21-year-old Osaka ranks ahead of him as a national sporting star after winning back-to-back Grand Slam titles at the US and Australian Opens, 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 number one, I’ve (only) been top three before,” said world number six Nishikori.
“There is more pressure, for sure. Being number one, winning Grand Slams, that’s something I never had before. It’s a bit different. It’s more than me, I think.”
The 29-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. She has great mental (strength), 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 (first round at last week’s women’s event against 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 US like Osaka, is playing Dubai for the first time as he shakes up his 2019 schedule.
Nishikori arrived in Dubai after reaching the semi-finals 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 in Acapulco. I used to play Memphis all the time, it was easier for me to play on the US side.
“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 started 2019 with the Brisbane trophy, his 12th title, and opens his Dubai campaign in the first round against Benoit Paire, the Frenchman he has defeated in five of seven matches.