MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Kei Nishikori swept into the third round of “The Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific”, then lamented the fact the world’s most populous continent was still struggling to produce more players capable of ending their grand slam men’s singles drought.
The fifth seeded Japanese took just over two hours to beat France’s Jeremy Chardy 6-3 6-4 6-3 on Hisense Arena on Wednesday to advance to an Australian Open third round clash against Slovakia’s Lukas Lacko.
The 27-year-old, however, felt unless others followed his example and got out of Asia to train at a younger age then it would struggle to produce grand slam champions.
“I was really lucky that I moved to the U.S., able to hit with all the top players,” Nishikori, who moved to Florida as a teenager, told reporters when asked whether the lack of top-class facilities, coaching or player depth was a concern in Asia. “I think that helps a lot to see how they are playing.
“I realised that when I was young and it was a really big step for me.
“I would suggest to (younger Asian players) to go to Europe or U.S. ... when you are junior or when you are really young.”
Nishikori used those experiences to become the second Asian man after Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan to make the top-10 and appears to be Asia’s best chance of clinching their first men’s grand slam title, having already lost the 2014 U.S. Open final to Croatia’s Marin Cilic.
There is, however, daylight between the quietly spoken right hander and the rest of the men’s Asian field. Only three others, Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun (60), Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin (98) and Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka (99) are currently in the top-100.
Just eight made the main draw of 128 players at Melbourne Park, which has been billed as the grand slam for the Asia-Pacific for more than a decade.
Three lost in the first round, while Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik was beaten by Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri on Wednesday.
Nishikori will have to wait until Thursday to see if any of the others join him, with Nishioka facing Spain’s 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut.
South Korea’s Chung Hyeon also has a major challenge getting past 15th seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, while Uzbek Denis Istomin has the unenviable task of facing six-times champion Novak Djokovic.
“I don’t want to say that it’s impossible if you’re staying in Asia to make top 10, but I think it’s still tough, based in Asia,” added Nishikori.
“It’s so many traveling, and I’m not sure if there is good practice partner, or you’re not able to get a chance to hit with the top players.
“Definitely it’s not easy.”
Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford/Amlan Chakraborty