AUSTRALIA’S Lleyton Hewitt today said Kei Nishikori was developing into a serious contender at Grand Slams as he bids to emulate China’s Li Na by becoming an Asian major-winner.
Hewitt, who will share the stage with China’s Li at next month’s BNP Paribas Showdown in Hong Kong, said Japan’s world number 16 stood the strongest chance of becoming the first Asian-born male singles Slam champion.
The former world number one, 32, fought past 24-year-old Nishikori in three sets on the way to winning last month’s Brisbane International, and he said the Japanese star has “really stepped it up”.
Sixteenth-ranked Nishikori, now advised by former French Open-winner Michael Chang, also pushed top seed Rafael Nadal in January’s Australian Open round of 16 in one of his best Grand Slam performances.
“In terms of the Asian guys, obviously it’s led by Nishikori at the moment and he has a very good chance in the future of being a contender at the Grand Slams,” Hewitt told a teleconference ahead of the March 3 showdown.
“I think he’s really stepped it up in the last year or so, over five sets in the majors. So he’s probably the best chance (of a Slam win), I would say, at the moment. He plays really well on all surfaces as well.”
He was also full of praise for the “fantastic” Li, and said the 2011 and 2013 runner-up fully deserved her win in a tournament dubbed ‘The Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific’.
“She’s such a big name in Asia now and in Asian sport in general.
“It’s been fantastic, what she’s done. She deserved to win the Australian Open.”