"It's still weird for me to think I'm the number one player in Asia, because when I was young I couldn't think I'd be the number one player in Japan or even Asia.
"But now I am and I have to receive it in my mind, my dream is coming and hopefully I can go further. I think Li Na did a great job. Hopefully I can be the first one to lead the young guys."
Nishikori still refers to Federer, whose elegance while accumulating his 15 major titles has seen him described as the greatest the game has ever seen, as his idol.
No wonder then that Nishikori joked he'd need a couple of days to celebrate after achieving one of his career goals by beating the Swiss at the Madrid Masters in May.
Federer's dominance of men's tennis was ingrained by the time Nishikori turned professional, but prior to that it was Matsuoka he was desperate to emulate.
"I have two heroes," he explained. "The first one is Shuzo Matsuoka, he was the first (successful Japanese player) -- he was the best tennis player in Japan.
"And Roger Federer. Still now, even though I love to see him play I think he is really the champion of tennis history."
Nishikori's rise saw a swell of optimism that he could be a pioneer for tennis, hence the 'Project 45' hype as he edged towards usurping Matsuoka's ranking.
"Project 45 was no pressure for me -- I was just playing tennis for my hobby," he said.
"My first goal after turning pro was to get into the top 100 and after to be 45. It was one of my goals to be number one tennis player in Japan, and now I am ranked No. 11 in the world.
"To get to the top 10 is my next goal. It's not going to be easy to get there -- hopefully this year -- but I am getting close."
Rock star status
Like Matsuoka, Nishikori has come to understand what being Japan's sole representative inside the top 120 means -- fame and adoration.
Much like Andy Murray who has had to carry the hopes of the United Kingdom on his shoulders, Nishikori has the same weight of responsibility, but answers to double the amount of people.
"I go back to Japan about three or four times a year," he explained. "I get to go back to my home town and, yes, people do recognize me on the streets.
"It's not easy sometimes; you don't get to relax but at the same time I still try to enjoy the moment. Not many people can feel that way -- I love to stay in Japan, I really enjoy it when I go back."
Not for a second does he begrudge the accoutrements that his success in the game has delivered. He's just a boy made good from Shimane acting out his hobby on the global stage.
"For me, playing tennis was always my hobby, I am a lucky guy," he said.
"It was something I loved. It is something that can make you mad or crazy sometimes but it is something you love and not many guys can do your job.
"I try to enjoy this moment and this life -- it is not going to be a long time, 10 to 20 years, so I'm going to work hard."