BRISBANE (Reuters) - For Kei Nishikori, one of the rising stars of men's tennis, the start of the new year could not come quick enough.
The 25-year-old Japanese finished 2014 in a blaze of glory, reaching the final of the U.S. Open, the semi-finals of the season-ending championships in London and climbing to a career best ranking of fifth.
His stellar performances last year have boosted his confidence and given him the spur to go on to bigger and better things in 2015.
"I have more confidence than before," he told reporters at the Brisbane International on Tuesday.
"I won two tournaments after the U.S. Open and played great in London too. So, I had a great season last year and I had a great preparation in Florida this off-season."
Nishikori will launch his new season in Brisbane on Wednesday against American Steve Johnson. As the second seed, Nishikori was given a first round bye and is itching to get back on court.
"I think I am doing really well," he said. "I think these first couple of tournaments of the year are very important for me to gain little more confidence.
"This is really exciting moment for me."
Nishikori's stocks have risen enormously since his breakthrough in New York. He has a huge following in his homeland Japan and a large Japanese media contingent is following his every move in Australia.
Before hitting the practice courts on Tuesday, he visited the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and posed for photos with the Australian marsupials.
"They were so cute. I get really relaxed (but the) nail was really sharp so it was hurting, otherwise it was really fun," he told reporters.
"Actually, outside is really changing around me. It's really different. A lot of media stuff, especially in Japan. I feel more attention."
After Brisbane, he plans to play in an exhibition event in Kooyong before the Australian Open, a tournament where he has performed consistently in recent years, reaching the quarter-finals in 2012 and the fourth round in 2013 and 2014.
While the Australian Open is his immediate goal, Nishikori said he has sights on making an impact at all the majors this year.
"Maybe to get semis or final if I can. Maybe to win a Masters, that's next goal for me," he said.
Reporting by Julian Linden; editing by Sudipto Ganguly