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Nishikori opens with a straight sets win at Brisbane

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Kei Nishikori beat Steve Johnson 6-4, 7-5 at the Brisbane International on Wednesday to start a season in which he wants to be in the vanguard aiming to end the dominance of the old guard in men’s tennis.

The Japanese player set Asian benchmarks during a breakout 2014, reaching his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open and rising to a year-end No. 5 ranking.

After a first-round bye, second-seeded Nishikori needed 80 minutes to advance from the second round in Brisbane, serving out on his fourth match point against Johnson.

He said he’s feeling his way into the new year, knowing that expectations on him are high. The Australian Open, the first major of the season, starts in 12 days in Melbourne. Just a bit too early, he thinks, for a first Grand Slam title.

“I might need a couple more years to (become a) really good player, but I’m getting really close,” he said. “So hopefully I can bring more good news to Japan.”

Three players have ruled the men’s game for nine years: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic captured 34 of the 38 major titles leading into the U.S. Open last September. The four exceptions were Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 U.S. Open, Andy Murray’s wins at the 2012 U.S. Open and 2013 Wimbledon, and Stan Wawrinka’s victory at the 2014 Australian Open.

None of those players reached the final at Flushing Meadows, though, with Marin Cilic beating Nishikori for the title. And that sparked much hype about the future.

Nishikori, Cilic, Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov are widely tipped to be among the next generation of champions.

“We are the ones coming next. We are getting really close from last year,” Nishikori said. “For sure, it’s going to happen this year.”

Fourth-seeded Dimitrov had a more difficult opener in Brisbane, fending off two match points in the tiebreaker before beating regular practice partner Jerome Chardy of France 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8) in 2

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