If he thought breaking the record of the highest tennis ranking held by a Japanese male was hard, then cracking the Top 10 is a whole other ball game. Japanese tennis superstar Kei Nishikori is tantalizingly close to that “holy grail” as he is currently ranked 11 in the world, and the expectations and the stakes have never been higher.
He is now enjoying rock-star popularity in a country that is hungry for its first ever grand slam champion. And even though tennis usually takes a backseat to the more popular sports like football, rugby and baseball, the pressure from the fans, the media and the tennis community is still intense. “I try not to think too much because if I start thinking then I feel pressure myself,” shared with CNN in its Human to Hero series, where he is currently featured.
His initial mission when he started going up the rankings was to beat the former record of Japanese tennis great Shuzo Matsuoka who became world number 46 in July 1992. Towards the end of 2011, he was able to break that record and since then has enjoyed a rather good run in some tournaments, even beating World Number 1 Novak Djokovic, and legend Roger Federer along the way. In 2012, he became the first Japanese male in 80 years to reach the Australian Open. The same year saw him win the Japan Open, the first home-grown player to ever do so. And this year, he broke another record by becoming the first Japanese male to reach the French Open fourth round since 1938, before eventually losing to clay master and eventual winner Rafael Nadal.
Now that he is at the lofty position of Number 11, the highest ranked Asian male on the tour (next is Chinese Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu at a distant 60), he is also working towards winning his first Grand Slam, not just for Japan but for the whole of Asia as well. “I am trying to get to be the most successful player in Asia,” a determined Nishikori says. He looks towards China’s Li Na, who won China’s first ever Grand Slam at the French Open in 2011, as an inspiration. “I think Li Na did a great job. Hopefully I can be the first one to lead the young guys,” he says.
[ via CNN ]
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