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Nishikori learning to deal with extra attention

January 6, 2015

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Since his breakthrough run to the U.S. Open final, Kei Nishikori has become used to people wanting a piece of him.

Even koalas.

He’s handled koalas on a previous trip Down Under, so he wasn’t expecting trouble on Tuesday at a sanctuary where one of the native Australian animals was recruited for a publicity shot, and dug his claws into the Japanese tennis star.

“It was hurting, otherwise it was really fun,” he said at the Brisbane International. “They were so cute.”

He welcomes the minor distractions from tennis, which has become increasingly more serious as his international profile has grown from a 2014 that included four titles, a year-end No. 5 ranking, and a first Grand Slam final, setting benchmarks for Asian men.

“Outside (tennis) is really changing around me. A lot of media stuff, especially in Japan,” Nishikori said of life since the U.S. Open. “If it’s too much, I get tired, but at the same time you have to really enjoy these things, too.”

The extra commitments off court haven’t eroded his primary focus, which is to enjoy a better season in 2015.

“I have more confidence than before, especially (winning) two tournaments after the U.S. Open and played great in London, too (to make the ATP Finals semifinals),” he said. “I had a great preparation in Florida this offseason.

“I am doing really well,” he added. “So this is a really exciting moment for me.”

He opens his 2015 campaign on Wednesday against American Steve Johnson at the Brisbane International, where he reached the semifinals last year.

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