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“You can’t expect Roger and those guys to keep holding it up forever,” said Hewitt, playing in Washington this week for the seventh time in his career.

“Those younger players [Raonic, Dimitrov and Nishikori] have a definite chance. They’ve already performed well on the big stage — in Grand Slams and in Davis Cup ties. They’re quality players and really it was only going to be a matter of time before those guys stood up.”

Nishikori, seeded fourth in D.C., is enjoying his best ATP season to date, complete with titles in Memphis and Barcelona and a 32-8 record heading into the Citi Open.

He is also the only player outside of the top 4 to have reached the finals this year of a Masters 1000 event — the ATP’s highest caliber tournament outside of the Grand Slams.

“I’m happy to be in this ranking situation [but] my goal is not the top-10. I’m trying to go further,” said Nishikori. “I hope I can make another big step… Last year I didn’t do too well in these [summer] months so it’s a very important few months for me.”

A new partnership with coach Michael Chang has Nishikori, 24, believing that he is now better prepared for deep runs at the upcoming Masters events in Toronto and Cincinnati and at the final Grand Slam of the year, the U.S. Open.

There is also that small matter of beating the top players — Nishikori is 0-7 against Nadal and a combined 3-3 against Djokovic and Federer.

“I think there’s still a difference between the top-5 guys compared to the rest of the top-20 let’s say … But for me, I don’t have any fear to play them anymore.”

Nishikori advanced to the third round with a three-set win over American Sam Querrey (6-4;5-7;6-4) on Wednesday.

Confidence may readily available at the start of the hard court season, but consistently beating U.S. Open champions Djokovic, Nadal and Federer and joining them atop the world rankings is entirely different.

“It’s really tough [to crack the top four]. It’s hard to explain with better words,” said Berdych, the top seed at the Citi Open and fifth ranked player in the world, who is a combined 11-45 lifetime against Djokovic, Nadal and Federer.

“I would basically say you need to win a slam to get there because the other guys are going to have at least one. If you want to be part of that, you really need to get [a slam].

“If there’s a recipe to do it, I would like to know it. We’re all trying.”