LISTEN to the bookmakers and many of the experts and you'd think Andy Murray is ready to waltz away with the French Open title a fortnight on Sunday.

Murray himself knows better than to get carried away and although world No.1 Novak Djokovic and nine-times champion Rafael Nadal will be uppermost in his mind, it is another man who could yet upset his and everyone else's chances at Roland Garros.

Japan's Kei Nishikori won Barcelona and reached the quarter-finals in Rome and semi-finals in Madrid, where he was stopped by Murray, who went on to beat Nadal for his first Masters 1000 win on the surface.

That win on clay- and a 4-1 head-to-head record in his favour - might suggest that Murray has Nishikori's number but the Japanese is on the rise and having reached his first grand slam final in New York last summer, he feels primed to take the next step.

"That gave me a lot of confidence, especially physically," said a relaxed Nishikori, perched on sofa in the players' area at the Rome Masters.

"(Before that) I couldn't really see how I could play two weeks in a row, especially five sets. But after that I was really confident with my physical side and also I was playing amazing the last couple of matches, beating Stan (Wawrinka), beating Djokovic."

Murray has always been wary of Nishikori's flashy groundstrokes and ability to take the ball early, assets which helped him beat the Scot in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London last November.

When he first broke into top 20, injuries held Nishikori back, but with the help of former French Open champion Michael Chang, who signed on as coach at the end of 2013, he has improved physically and mentally.

"I think now I am more calm in matches, I don't have too many ups and downs," the 25-year-old said. "I kind of know when I have to raise my level. All my experience helped me to learn a little more and mentally, Michael and Dante Bottini (his other coach) help me a lot."

As fast as anyone on Tour and with huge racket head speed, Nishikori creates enormous power but remains relatively slight, at least compared to the likes of Nadal.

Had it not been for his decision to leave Japan as a 12-year-old to sign up with the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida, though, he says he might have fallen too far behind.

Though the language was tough to learn and being away from family and friends was especially tough, Nishikori found adjusting to American food the hardest thing to do, even if it had long-term benefits.

"I used to eat McDonald's," he said. "I had to eat something so I had no choice and I think it was good that I went to the US, because after a couple of years, I got much bigger in height and more weight. The taste wasn't the best but it was good for me, good for the body. Japanese food is healthy but it doesn't get you much bigger."

Jim Courier, the two-time French Open champion, who will be covering the French Open for ITV, believes Nishikori is the second-best player in the world on clay at the moment, ahead of Nadal.

"I've been feeling really comfortable on clay because I have more time to set up my forehand," Nishikori said. "I can use a lot of different shots, drop shots and high balls, so it's actually more fun to play on clay. I try to be more aggressive, like hard courts, so I have been feeling confident."

With Nishikori flying, expect hordes of Japanese fans to descend on Roland Garros, as they do wherever their hero plays.

He has now lived in the US for half of his life and it's interesting to hear him say that he's more easy-going as a result. There he can walk down the street unnoticed, whereas in Japan where is often mobbed.

"If I stayed in Japan for sure I would get cocky and go crazy, but luckily I am staying in the US, so that's why I can concentrate all the time, play tennis and do training, all the important stuff," he said.

If he's looking for calm, then Paris takes him to a good place.

"When I was 12 or 13, it wasn't tournament day, I went in - I shouldn't say this - but I went in and went to Centre Court and there was no guard," he said.

"So I went in and I was just looking around and I was dreaming about it so that's why I have a good memory of it.

"I love how I feel in the French Open. It gives me a different feeling to the other grand slams. And I've been playing well, so I think I have some chances over the next couple of years."