MELBOURNE - Japan's Kei Nishikori emulated the feat of his new American coach Michael Chang by winning the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne on Saturday, beating Czech player Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-5. Chang, who won the Australian Open warm-up event three times in the 1990s, was in the stands to watch his protege's success.
"They have a big history at this tournament. A lot of legends have won it," said Nishikori, who follows in the footsteps of Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. "I really enjoyed this week, I'm very happy to put my name on this trophy along with Michael," added the 24-year-old, who plays Australian Marinko Matosevic in the opening round of the Australian Open, which starts on Monday. World number seven Berdych got off to a slow start, losing his opening service game and his Japanese opponent, ranked 10 places lower, went on to establish a 4-1 lead. The Czech pulled back to 3-5 with an ace and broke back in the ninth game but dropped his serve again immediately as Nishikori sealed the opener after 32 minutes.
Berdych battled hard in the second set but was not able to stamp his authority on the match. He levelled at 5-5 with his sixth ace, but Nishikori edged ahead 6-5 and sealed victory in the following game. Berdych, 28, came into the final of the eight-man exhibition event with an undefeated record after beating Nishikori in a group match on Thursday.
But due to the late withdrawal of France's Richard Gasquet from the final due to fatigue, Nishikori had the chance to vie for the title and take advantage of vital match practice before the first Grand Slam of the year in Melbourne.
"It was a strange situation to lose to him and then play him in the final," said Nishikori, who said he had learned lessons from his earlier defeat. "But I'm happy to win today."
"Tomas was attacking my second serve in the first match. I knew I had to do something about it and I was able to today," he added. "That was one of my tactics and it worked for me." Berdych accepted defeat with good grace. "I was third in 2013 and second this year, I hope to return and make it number one. I like this event, played at this historical club (former home of the Australian Open). This is the best kind of start for next week," he said.