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Kei Nishikori: 'It was a little bit crazy'

By Tim Hume, CNN
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
He's big in Japan.....Kei Nishikori serves during a U.S. Open practice session in September. The Japanese reached his first grand slam final at Flushing Meadow. He's big in Japan.....Kei Nishikori serves during a U.S. Open practice session in September. The Japanese reached his first grand slam final at Flushing Meadow.
Japan's rising star
Marathon man
Nishikori upsets Wawrinka
Djokovic scalp
Final defeat
Coach Chang
Tennis talent school
'The shotmaker'
Early inspiration
Big decision
Breakthrough win
Size matters
Injury blow
Grass gains
  • Kei Nishikori's strong performance at the U.S. Open has seen him heralded in Japan
  • Nishikori reached final at Flushing Meadows before defeat by Croatia's Marin Cilic
  • The 24-year-old says other players are now paying more attention to him
  • World No. 6 credits new coach Michael Chang with invigorating his game

Hong Kong (CNN) -- A fortnight after Japan's Kei Nishikori became the first Asian man to play in a grand slam final in the Open era -- going down in straight sets to Croatia's Marin Cilic at Flushing Meadows -- he sat down with CNN in Hong Kong to talk the U.S. Open, his new-found stardom and the impact his new coach Michael Chang has had on his game.

To make that U.S. Open final, you had to get past Novak Djokovic in the semis. How did it feel to beat the world's top player at a major?

It was amazing, also playing my best tennis. It's my second time beating him, but it's different in a grand slam. Everybody's trying to play 100%. So when I beat (world No. 6 Milos Raonic), Stan (Wawrinka, world no. 4) and Nole (Djokovic), it was a great feeling.

Was there anything different about the way you approached that big match?

Not so much. I don't think I was feeling a lot of pressure, just (taking) one match at a time. I was really relaxed, but also really concentrating every match. Even if the match was going three or four hours, I was still concentrating well, and that was the key.

How has life changed since then?

Not much. It was a little bit crazy in Japan, a lot of people came to the airport when I landed. But what I do is always the same. Train hard, always play my tennis. Maybe all the players look at me in a different way now. They may care a little more, they study what I do.

You're a hero in Japan since the U.S. Open -- there were people saying they wanted to name their future children Kei. How have you found that experience?

Japan erupts in celebration of Nishikori
Japanese fans rally behind tennis player
Cilic beats Nishikori in U.S. Open final

They always want to motivate me. The U.S. Open was played completely at the opposite time, but they were cheering for me throughout the night and the early morning. When I was walking in the street (in Japan) these couple of days, they'll say congratulations to me and it's always a pleasure to feel something like that.

The Japanese people aren't too aggressive so they (usually) won't say too much -- but this time was different. They were trying to say hi to me and congratulate me.

Do you feel an extra sense of pressure to be representing the hopes of many Asian fans?

Not too much. I always think to just play my tennis. I'm very honored to be the number one player in Asia.

You see more junior or young guys coming up, and women are always there -- like Li Na ... but not for men.

So I hope I can get leadership and this will help for sure in Asia to go to finals in grand slams. I broke one of the goals. I think people can believe a little more that they can do it.

You've been coached by former French Open champion Michael Chang since January. What changes has he made to your game?

He's definitely helped my tennis. My tennis is really growing very strong and is a little more aggressive than before.

I'm trying to, (with) the short ball, step in a little more. More things to do than before, but it's working really well.

I spend more time with him on the court, more practice and more training -- that's why I could play seven matches in the U.S. Open, even though I played two (that went to) five sets. It's really improving.

Roger Federer is the one I respect the most... A great serve, great strokes, everything is perfect
Kei Nishikori, on his tennis hero

Who is your tennis hero?

Roger Federer is the one I respect the most. I always love to play him and also to watch his tennis.

Sometimes we don't know what he does -- he does amazing things. I think a great serve, great strokes, everything is perfect. He doesn't have many weaknesses.

Let's talk diet. Andy Murray is known to eat a lot of sushi, Djokovic is big on gluten-free food. Do you have a special diet or a personal chef?

Not yet. I try to eat a good balance -- a lot of carbs before the match, also vegetables, a lot of fruit. But I don't really stress too much. Sometimes, I eat whatever I want. I try to eat simple and good.

What do you like to do with your time off the court?

I like to go shopping and I love to sleep. Sometimes when I have an off day I'll sleep to midday. I play golf sometimes and love to watch sport.

Your home prefecture in Japan, Shimane, recently offered you an award in the wake of your U.S. Open performance, but you turned it down. Why was that?

It's the second time they've offered. It's always a pleasure that they honor me like that -- but I think I'm still on my way to my goal.

It's not like I've done everything. I think there's still more things to do and I'm still young. So I think if I get maybe a grand slam I can receive that.

Do you see yourself winning a grand slam one day?

I think it's getting close, because I was almost there. But I know how tough it is to get to the semis in grand slams.

It's still far away I think, but you know, I'm in the top 10 right now and I think I can be there. I have enough power and talent to get to the final -- so I hope I can get there again some time.

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