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Tennis: Honda hopes for Nishikori's Melbourne victory

Japanese tennis star Kei Nishikori and former Japan international footballer Keisuke Honda are pictured at a tennis event in Melbourne on Jan. 11, 2019 ahead of the Australian Open. (Kyodo)

MELBOURNE (Kyodo) -- Japanese tennis ace Kei Nishikori and soccer star Keisuke Honda played doubles together Friday at a tune-up event ahead of the Australian Open.

Three days before the season-opening Grand Slam kicks off, the world No. 9 Nishikori and Honda, a former member of Japan's national team, praised each other as they entertained the audience.

"(Honda) is one of the athletes I respect the most. He has a lot of things I don't have," said Nishikori, who will go into the Jan. 14-27 Australian Open as the eighth seed.

A midfielder at Melbourne Victory, the 32-year-old Honda said he wants Nishikori, 29, to accomplish what he was unable to fulfill during his time with Japan's national team.

"I'm older than (Nishikori) but it doesn't feel that way. I get inspiration whenever I see him," Honda said. "I wasn't able to win the World Cup, so I want Nishikori to do his best."

Honda retired from international soccer following last year's World Cup in Russia, where he made history as the first Japanese to score at three World Cups. Japan were defeated in the round of 16 despite taking a 2-0 lead against eventual semifinalists Belgium.

Nishikori aims to win his first major title at the Australian Open. He reached the semifinals at the previous Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.

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