Sony Open Notebook

Kei Nishikori leaning on former champion Michael Chang during Sony Open run

 
 
Kei Nishikori of Japan returns a ball hit by David Ferrer of Spain at the Sony Open Tennis on Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida, March 25, 2014. Nishikori defeated Ferrer in three sets.
Kei Nishikori of Japan returns a ball hit by David Ferrer of Spain at the Sony Open Tennis on Key Biscayne, Miami, Florida, March 25, 2014. Nishikori defeated Ferrer in three sets.
CHARLES TRAINOR JR / STAFF PHOTO

Special to the Miami Herald

When it comes to men’s tennis this year, the big topic of conversation is the arrival of former high-octane players as coaching voices for today’s stars: Boris Becker is working with Novak Djokovic, and Stefan Edberg is working with Roger Federer.

One relationship that isn’t receiving as much publicity but is certainly proving effective is 20th seed Kei Nishikori having 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang in his corner. Nishikori’s run to the Sony Open semifinal, highlighted by his 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 quarterfinal upset of fifth-ranked Federer on Wednesday night, is proof Chang’s message is resonating with Japan’s greatest player ever.

Nishikori, 24, is more aggressive and digging his heel into matches. Those were traits Chang used to torment opponents throughout his impressive career.

“I thought I really played well, especially in the third,” said Nishikori, after ushering Federer to the exit. “I was hitting both deep and striking well. There was a couple of tough moments, but I was fighting through and happy to win.”

In Federer’s mind, Nishikori, who ranked as high as No. 11 in June 2013, should slip comfortably into the upper echelon of the game.

“I think Kei does really well controlling the ball,” Federer said. “He has great technique, especially on the backhand.

“I think he’s serving better this year, and I see him moving up the rankings. I predict he’s going to be top 10 in a short while.”

Before beating Federer for the second time in three career meetings, Nishikori upset fourth-seeded David Ferrer of Spain in a three-hour battle. Nishikori saved four match points in his 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 7-6 (11-9) win over Ferrer.

Nishikori next plays second-seeded Djokovic. They’ve played twice before and are 1-1.

BERDYCH LAYING LOW

Tomas Berdych’s been among the season-ending top-10 players for the past four years, but the Czech native is still flying under the radar when it comes to fan recognition.

The seventh-ranked Berdych, who reached the Sony semifinals with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) win over 23rd-ranked Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, isn’t surprised he’s not garnering more attention. Berdych understands his 2010 Wimbledon finalist appearance pales against the Grand Slam victories of his fellow top tenners: Federer 17, Rafael Nadal 13 and Djokovic six.

“Compared to them, I’m missing, maybe, like 35 Grand Slams, so I can really understand why is that,” said Berdych, who won his eighth career title at Rotterdam this year. “I’m really not upset.

“If one day comes the [Grand Slam] title then that’s basically why I play tennis.”

BRYANS BACK IN FINAL

Top-ranked Bob and Mike Bryan, who won the Sony doubles title in 2007 and 2008, are back in the Sony final for the first time in six years. The Bryans, who defeated eighth seeds Michael Llodra and Nicholas Mahut of France, are looking for their third consecutive title of the year, having already lifted the trophy at Delray Beach and Indian Wells.

They know their final against Colombians Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, who defeated American Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock 2-6, 6-4 [11-9], will come with an enthusiastic crowd.

“This is the only tournament in America that sometimes it’s an away match depending on who you’re playing, if you’re playing a team from south of the border,” Bob Bryan said.

What’s new since they last won here is Bob now lives in nearby Sunny Isles with wife Michelle, a native to Miami, 2-year-old Micaela and 3-month-old Bobby Jr.

“Bobby Jr. is undefeated,” Bob said. “He’s come to Delray, came to Indian Wells and here.

“He hasn’t lost a match yet. He’s the good luck charm.”

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