PARIS (Reuters) – His mere presence causes hysteria and pandemonium in the Land of the Rising Sun and he has no tennis equal in a continent heaving with 4.427 billion inhabitants, yet self-effacing Kei Nishikori thinks he is simply “one” of the best players in Japan.
One of the best? More like ‘the best’.
For a continent that has failed to produce a single male grand slam champion in decades of trying, Nishikori now finds himself as the torch bearer of Asian tennis.
A debut appearance for an Asian man in a grand slam final – at the US Open in September – has only served to whet his appetite for glory rather than satisfy it.
Following his remarkable run to the Flushing Meadows showpiece, he is the first Asian to make it into the elite eight-man season finale that will be staged on the banks of London’s River Thames.
“I might get nervous first time but I’ll try to play my best tennis and try not to think too much of it being the Tour Finals,” Nishikori told Reuters in an interview in the run up to the O2 spectacular.
“Beating Novak (Djokovic) at the US Open, it was a great experience and gave me a lot of confidence. So for sure I know I have a chance to beat the top players, so if I can play good, I have some chance to win some matches.”
While tennis has produced some brash and loud characters over the years, Nishikori prefers to create a racket with his racquet. Never had the hullabaloo been louder than at the US Open when he beat fifth seed Milos Raonic in a five-set stamina-busting thriller.
Surely he would have nothing left to give in his quarter-final against Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka?
Five lung-burning sets later, Wawrinka was the one left out of puff. Surely Djokovic would swiftly bring him back down to earth in the semi-finals? Nishikori was floating on cloud nine after four gripping sets against the world number one.
While Marin Cilic finally silenced Nishikori in the title match, it was not long before the man tagged as ‘Project 45’ at the start of his career had now turned his focus on completing ‘Project Grand Slam’.