Who is Kei Nishikori?



Kei Nishikori proudly wears the Uniqlo logo at the Australian Open 2011.

Darya, Staff Writer

“Kei kun! Kei kun!” The crowd goes wild as the first Asian tennis player enters the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the US pen finals. This is a moment any professional tennis player dreams about: stepping onto the court of one of the world famous stadiums and playing in a Grand Slam final. For Kei Nishikori, this was even more special, as he was the first Japanese and the first Asian man to play in a Grand Slam Championship. Before him, the best result for a Japanese tennis player in a Grand Slam tournament was Matsuoka Shuzo, when he played in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, where he was defeated by then world number one, Pete Sampras.

Just two days before the finals, Nishikori won an exhausting four-set match against Novak Djokovic, a world leading player. This was certainly the peak of Nishikori’s career so far.

Nishikori’s journey began when he was five years old. By the time he was a teenager, he had won the Japan National Kids Competition in 2001. In order to continue his tennis career, Nishikori moved to Florida to join the IMG Academy, after graduating from Aomori-Yamada High School. Nishikori turned professional in 2007 and has competed in many international events since, but this year’s US open has been by far the highlight of his journey.

His coach, former male singles number one Michael Chang, said that, “If he beats Djokovic, Kei can win the tournament.” Unfortunately for Nishikori and his fans in Japan, the story of this US open didn’t end up with a happy ending. In the finals he was overwhelmed by another young rising star, Marin Cilic, losing 3 – 0. But this defeat definitely doesn’t put an end to Nishikori’s ambitions. He certainly has the potential to win many tournaments in his career and to improve his rank (currently eighth).

Although Nishikori didn’t come first, he did win a $1 million sponsorship bonus from Uniqlo, a popular Japanese casual clothing brand. Uniqlo is mainly known for its jeans and block colored shirts and not so much for sportswear. However, with Nishikori stepping onto the US Open court wearing the red and white Uniqlo logo, Uniqlo’s popularity has risen. A Uniqlo spokesman told FORBES that “[Nishikori’s] popularity and wide appeal, both in Japan and abroad, is a perfect match for us.”

The Japanese fans are looking forward to seeing Nishikori play in many big tournaments, first of which is the ATP World Final Series will take place in December in Singapore.