Melbourne: A break-out 2014 season and a career-high ranking of five has added extra weight to Kei Nishikori`s shoulders, with the U.S. Open finalist already bearing the burden of huge expectations in his home country Japan.
Nishikori became the first man from an Asian country to reach a grand slam final at Flushing Meadows and though the 25-year-old wears the distinction with pride, he also feels the pressure to take the extra step.
Nishikori reached the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday with a 6-7(7) 6-1 6-2 6-3 win over much-improved American Steve Johnson at the Hisense Arena.
But the fifth seed still has a huge mountain to climb at Melbourne Park with top seed Novak Djokovic and defending champion Stan Wawrinka likely to stand in the way of a maiden final in Australia.
"Obviously number five is a different feeling than outside of the top 10 because you still feel a lot of confidence, but you feel other things off the court," Nishikori told reporters.
"I think I feel more pressure than before. I try not to think too much. But you obviously feel a little bit. It`s still not comfortable for me to be this ranking.
"But I think I need more time to get used to it. If I can play good tennis, I think I have a lot of chance to stay here this whole year. You know, practise hard and prepare good. Hopefully I can do good this week and next week."
Nishikori will have one less distraction at Melbourne Park before his fourth-round match against David Ferrer, with Japan`s national soccer team bombing out of their Asian Cup title defence in Australia.
The defending champions lost a penalty shoot-out to underdogs United Arab Emirates in Sydney on Friday much to the disappointment of huge fan Nishikori.
"Yeah, (I`m) disappointed because I think they really had a chance of winning the whole thing. So really sad to see," he said.
"I hope tennis gets bigger in Japan, Asia. But I love soccer. So I hope lot of kids start playing soccer, too."