Tennis: Greatest test for Japan's quarter finalist

Kei Nishikori is only the second Japanese player in the Open era to make it to the grand slam. Photo / NZPA
Kei Nishikori is only the second Japanese player in the Open era to make it to the grand slam. Photo / NZPA

When he steps on to the Rod Laver Arena for his Australian Open quarter-final against Andy Murray today, Kei Nishikori is bound to be suitably respectful of his better-credentialed opponent.

But only until the first ball is served. After that, the outsider in the field of men's quarter-finalists will play the match of his life.

Nishikori, who is seeded 24, became only the second Japanese player in the Open era to make it to a grand slam quarter-final when he outplayed and outlasted world No 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the fourth round.

The win put the 22-year-old, who has lived in Florida since he was 14, into uncharted territory. He has already shown he can play, with his best previous grand-slam result coming in 2008 when he made the fourth round of the US Open. But his career stalled the following year when he had surgery on an injured elbow.

Less than three months ago, in Basel, Nishikori beat both Tomas Berdych and world No 1 Novak Djokovic on the way to a final he lost to Roger Federer.

He regards his Open quarter-final, however, as his greatest test.

"For sure," Nishikori said.

"This is first quarter-final for me, so I feel I'm stepping up. But I have no pressure. I will be playing for everything ... for my life."

Nishikori has played Murray only once, an encounter he remembers well.

"He kind of destroyed me," he said.

"But I learn a lot of things from him.

"I have respect, but I am trying to beat him."

Murray, the fourth seed, is far from dismissive of the latest opponent to stand between him and the grand slam title he has come within one win of collecting at the past two Australian Opens.

"He's very good ... very deceptive," Murray said.

"For somebody that's not the tallest guy, he creates a lot of power from the back of the court.

"He deals with pace well. He can slice; he moves well.

"He was dictating all the points from the back of the court, which is difficult against someone like Tsonga."

While Nishikori endured five sets under a blazing sun to make the quarters, Murray got there on a virtual default after his opponent Mikhail Kukushkin withdrew after two sets.

Against that, Murray must contend with the pressure of being the only player among the world's top four not to have won a major.

He and Nishikori must also contend with another scorching afternoon, with Rafael Nadal and Berdych being awarded the cool of the night.

AAP

- NZ Herald

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