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Nishioka Sinks Shapo For Seoul Crown

  • Posted: Oct 02, 2022

Nishioka Sinks Shapo For Seoul Crown

26-year-old triumphs in South Korean capital to lift second ATP Tour trophy

Yoshihito Nishioka produced a stunning counter-punching display against Denis Shapovalov at the Eugene Korea Open Tennis Championships on Sunday to claim his second ATP Tour title in style at the ATP 250 event in Seoul.

The 26-year-old Japanese downed the fourth seed 6-4, 7-6(5) with a performance full of blistering shotmaking from deep. Despite Shapovalov finding improved rhythm behind his serve and powerful forehand as the match wore on, Nishioka’s movement and stoic defence proved key as he rallied from a 1-3 deficit in the second set before staying solid in the tie-break to secure a one-hour, 55-minute victory.

“This week was amazing for me,” said Nishioka after the match. “I played very well on the court, my mentality and attitude. I just focused on the play, which was very important I think. A couple of matches it was very close, but I played very well, tried to figure out how to beat the opponent, and every match I fought. I needed to play like this in all the matches [so that] I had a chance to beat each of the players.”

A pivotal hold from 0/40 in the seventh game of the match was an early demonstration of the sort of resilience that had taken Nishioka past Daniel Evans and Casper Ruud en route to the final in Seoul. The Japanese appeared to garner confidence from that recovery as his lightning movement around the court made it difficult for Shapovalov to hit through him. After Nishioka carved out his first set point at 5-4, 30/40, the Canadian netted a relatively straightforward forehand volley for Nishioka to move ahead.

Shapovalov responded well to that disappointment, firing a series of blazing forehand winners to lead 3-1 in the second, but Nishioka once again used his defensive abilities to engineer an impressive comeback and force a tie-break. The unseeded Japanese was the more solid player from then on, ultimately sealing victory despite only hitting 14 winners to Shapovalov’s 38.

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“I think my returning was great today,” said Nishioka, who now leads Shapovalov 2-0 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series. “I know he has a big serve and a big forehand, but I didn’t need to worry about that if it was too good. I just focused on playing many balls and putting pressure on him, and if I had chances to just go for it. But first of all, just make a lot of balls, and hit a lot to his backhand, and try to move him.”

Nishioka lifted his maiden ATP Tour title in Shenzhen in 2018 and was appearing in his second championship match of 2022 at that level after reaching the Washington final in August, a run that included wins against Alex de Minaur, Karen Khachanov and Andrey Rublev. His triumph in Seoul lifts the 26-year-old 15 spots to No. 41 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

“First and foremost, congrats to Yoshi. I mean you’re playing incredible this year. You’re super annoying to play,” joked Shapovalov when addressing Nishioka at the trophy presentation ceremony. “it was super frustrating for me, I tried to find a way and I think I did everything I could, so congrats, and to your coach as well, you guys deserve it.”

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Rune Advances Past Sinner Into Sofia Final

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Rune Advances Past Sinner Into Sofia Final

Dane to take on Swiss lefty Huesler in Sunday’s championship match

Holger Rune advanced to his second ATP Tour final of 2022 on Saturday at the Sofia Open after his fellow #NextGenATP star Jannik Sinner retired from the pair’s semi-final clash due to an ankle injury.

Rune was leading 5-7, 6-4, 5-2 in a hard-hitting encounter against Sinner at the ATP 250 event in Bulgaria when the top seed was forced to stop. The Italian, who was chasing his third consecutive title in Sofia, had twisted his ankle in a heavy fall when Rune led 3-2, 0/15 in the third set.

“It’s obviously never the way you want to win and it was such a great match,” said Rune in his on-court interview. “It’s the worst possible way it could end and I just want to wish Jannik all the best. He’s an amazing player and what he has shown this year has been unbelievable. I wish him a speedy recovery.”

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Before the stoppage, Rune had fought hard to turn the match around, rallying after dropping the opening set to take charge of his maiden tour-level clash against the Italian.

“I think it was a great match up until the end, and I think I was obviously feeling a little bit tired after yesterday, but I really pushed hard and ran for everything,” said Rune. “So I’m happy with the way I fought and happy with my level.”

Having lifted his maiden ATP Tour title on the clay in Munich in April, Rune will next face the unseeded Swiss Marc-Andrea Huesler as he pushes for his second tour-level crown. The 19-year-old Rune is more than aware of the weapons that Huesler possesses, having fallen to the World No. 95 in straight sets in the pair’s only previous ATP Head2Head meeting in Bastad in July.

“He’s been playing amazing and serving so well, especially here he is getting a lot of free points on the serve,” said Rune, who confirmed his qualification for November’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals with his quarter-final win against Ilya Ivashka in Sofia on Friday. “So it’s going to be another tough match and I really have to be there on my returns and serve at the same time, so it’s going to be an interesting match for sure.”

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Huesler had earlier engineered a stunning comeback in a crucial tie-break for the second consecutive day to upset fourth seed Lorenzo Musetti 7-6(5), 7-5 and reach his maiden ATP Tour final at the indoor hard-court event.

The Swiss lefty reeled off six points in a row from 1/5 to claim the first-set tie-break against Musetti and produced plenty of high-powered serving and decisive volleying en route to a 96-minute semi-final victory. The 26-year-old had saved two match points in the second-set tie-break against Kamil Majchrzak in Friday’s quarter-finals.

“For sure,” said Huesler, when asked if it was one of the biggest moments of his career. “I mean I’ve never been in the final before of an ATP event. I’m obviously a bit speechless. I can’t quite believe that I’m able to win today and make it to the finals, but I played a really great match today and I’m just really happy.”

Despite Huesler firing only 24 winners to Musetti’s 29 in the pair’s first ATP Head2Head meeting, the Swiss was clinical at key moments to notch his ninth tour-level win of the season.

“In those moments, it is not looking good,” said Huesler of his 1/5 deficit in the first-set tie-break. “You just try to play point-by-point. Everyone knows that in tennis it is never over until the last point is played. Obviously if he keeps his level high there, I’m probably going to lose that set, but then again you just try to stay in. I played a couple of good points at 5/5, went for my shots, and then it can go fast.

“On the whole I feel really good here. I feel like we were both serving really, really well, not many rallies, and then it’s hard once you get the rally, to actually be in it, but I’m very happy with the way I handled it today.”

Huesler’s exploits this week in Sofia have lifted him 21 spots to No. 74 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.

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Dialled-In Djokovic Seals Tel Aviv Final Spot

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Dialled-In Djokovic Seals Tel Aviv Final Spot

Serbian will play for 89th tour-level title in Sunday’s final at ATP 250 event

Novak Djokovic maintained his perfect week at the Tel Aviv Watergen Open in style on Saturday, when the top-seeded Serbian produced a high-class semi-final showing to see off Roman Safiullin 6-1, 7-6(3) and reach his fourth tour-level final of 2022.

A near-flawless first-set performance saw Djokovic drop just three points behind serve as he stamped his authority early in his maiden ATP Head2Head meeting with the World No. 104. Safiullin raised his level in the second set, finding his range with his powerful groundstrokes to break Djokovic as the top seed served for the match at 5-4, but Djokovic showed trademark composure in the tie-break to complete his third straight-sets victory of the week in Israel in 95 minutes.

“I think it was a very competitive match, especially in the second set,” said Djokovic. “I must say I was quite emotional on the court today in the second set, there was a lot of tension, and that was also due to his aggressive style of tennis. Big serves, and when he has time, he’s so solid from the forehand and backhand corner.

“I knew that I had to stay very strong, and that he was definitely going to raise his level in the second set, which happened. I was serving for the match and played a couple of loose points, but credit to him for fighting back. It was an enjoyable evening on the court for sure.”

Djokovic’s win takes him to his first tour-level hard-court final since his triumph at the 2021 Rolex Paris Masters last November. The 35-year-old will now take on second seed Marin Cilic or Constant Lestienne in Sunday’s championship match as he chases his third tour-level crown of the year.

More to follow…

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Soeda Plays Final ATP Tour Event In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Soeda Plays Final ATP Tour Event In Tokyo

Kanagawa native competed in Tokyo in 15 different years

Go Soeda began to close the curtains on his 20-year career on Saturday at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships. The 38-year-old played his final ATP Tour match in the Tokyo qualifying draw before bowing out in front of his home fans at the Ariake Colosseum.

He will close out his career at the All Japan Tennis Championships later this month.

“I feel no limits,” Soeda said, reflecting on his time as a professional. “20 years, I had no big injuries. I had a big target to reach the Top 100, and I [achieved] that… I’m just happy.”

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A native of nearby Kanagawa, Soeda competed in Tokyo 15 times, including 13 main-draw appearances. At his home tournament, he squared off against the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and countryman Kei Nishikori, calling his 2019 matchup with Djokovic his “biggest memory” and “one of the big days in my life”.

“It means a lot,” he said of finishing his ATP Tour career in Japan at the long-running ATP 500 event. “I want to show my tennis to my family, my sponsors, the fans. It’s good to finish here, especially on the ATP Tour — in Japan there is only one event, so it’s a special feeling.”

Soeda turned pro in 2003 and broke into the Top 50 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in 2012, reaching a career-high of World No. 47. The Japanese recorded 56 tour-level singles wins in his career and claimed 18 ATP Challenger Tour singles titles in 31 finals.


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With a 409-242 record in Challengers, Soeda has recorded the third-most singles wins and claimed fifth-most singles titles in the competition’s history.

“So many tournaments, so many matches,” he said of those records, smiling. “I’m proud.”

While Soeda’s playing career is reaching its end, he will remain involved in the sport as the new captain of the Japanese Davis Cup team. He was a member of the 2014 Japanese team which reached the quarter-finals, but holds ambitions to better that result in his new role.

“My team is high-level, so we have to go to the final stage. That is my target, also our target, the biggest goal,” he said.

Discussing the 2014 team, he added: “I think that team is the best team in my life. but we can do more. We can go even farther, semi-finals… We have a chance to win the tournament.”

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Home Hope Kukushkin Seeks His 'Old Version' In Astana

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Home Hope Kukushkin Seeks His ‘Old Version’ In Astana

Home wild card opens against Tsitsipas at this week’s Astana Open

Mikhail Kukushkin admits it has been a tough year for him on court but, as he prepares to compete at next week’s Astana Open, the home favourite is excited to be playing on the same courts that played such a vital role in him cracking the Top 40 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings just three years ago.

The 34-year-old isn’t intent on joining the recent list of tennis retirees anytime soon. The Kazakh is keen for his newborn son — a huge bright spot off court — to watch him compete up close in the future.

Saturday’s draw at the loaded Astana Open in Kazakhstan revealed that the Astana resident would face third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas at the National Tennis Center. Grand Slam winners Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are among two of his fellow wild cards.

“I had to wait until Friday evening to receive a wildcard because obviously there were so many requests from famous players to receive one,” a relaxed Kukushkin, winless in four matches against the Greek, said prior to the draw. “Lucky in the end I was able to get one. There was a chance I would play qualifying, which was still fine for me, but main draw is better.”

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Main-draw victories at the highest level have proven difficult for the power-baseliner this season. The lone one came at the Miami Open presented by Itau in March after he made it through qualifying at the ATP Masters 1000 event. He then took time off when his son, Teikhon, was born in May, and has also dealt with shoulder and hip injuries.

Kukushkin dropped outside the Top 200 in July, having been inside the Top 100 for an eight-year spell between the end of 2013 and early 2021, with the exception of about three months. The goal for the rest of 2022 is to “finish well”, before he looks forward to pre-season training.

“I’m still motivated to find my old version,” said Kukushkin, an ATP title winner in St. Petersburg in 2010 who has also reached the second week at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon. “I don’t want to finish tennis being 500th in the world. I still believe I can play at a good level, so I want to come back to that. I’m going to work hard on this. Let’s see how long it takes.

“One, two, three years I can play, I don’t know. I’m motivated and also want my son to see his daddy playing on the big stage.”

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Kazakhstan has grown in prominence on tennis’ world stage, something Kukushkin noted. Elena Rybakina, the current World No. 25 on the WTA Tour, won Wimbledon in July. Kukushkin relocated to Kazakhstan in 2008, and has represented his nation 50 times across 14 years in the Davis Cup, winning 29 of those encounters.

Kazakhstan first hosted an ATP event in 2020 in Astana — Kukushkin overturned a set and break deficit to defeat Benoit Paire and make the quarterfinals — and this year upgraded from a 250 to 500.

“In 2008 when I moved [here], nobody knew about Kazakhstan, nobody knew about tennis in Kazakhstan, and slowly the federation made a big step forward,” said Kukushkin. “We played good in Davis Cup, so the people slowly started to hear the name of Kazakhstan and that there are good players in Kazakhstan.

“Slowly we were all improving the situation here. It’s the third year of the tournament but all the players, all the ATP staff, all the coaches, all the fans know the tournament here is great. The facilities are great and organized.”

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Felix Ready To Continue Success In Astana

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Felix Ready To Continue Success In Astana

Canadian is eighth seed at ATP 500 event

In retrospect, it’s ironic, but in a spectacular span of nine days last month Felix Auger-Aliassime – in back-to-back team events – produced the finest-quality results of his individual career.

On 16 September in Valencia, Spain, the 22-year-old Canadian overcame a rabidly partisan crowd and the World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz with a breathtaking comeback 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2 in Davis Cup play. Auger-Aliassime, who saved each of the seven break points he faced in a nearly three-hour match, followed up his defeat of the reigning US Open champion with a doubles victory that sent Canada into the November quarter-finals opposite Germany. Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil defeated Marcel Granollers and Pedro Martinez in three sets.

Then at the Laver Cup in London, with his Team World trailing Team Europe on the final day, Auger-Aliassime teamed with Jack Sock to defeat Andy Murray and Matteo Berrettini in doubles. He followed that up, stunning Novak Djokovic 6-3, 7-6 (3) in singles to give Team World a lead they never relinquished in winning the Cup for the first time.

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And now, at the Astana Open where main-draw play begins Monday, Auger-Aliassime will attempt to translate that terrific team success into something more personal. He’s the eighth seed and faces Roberto Bautista Agut in a first-round match.

“Yeah, the last two weeks have been good,” he said before the tournament began. “Those team competitions I’ve been able to deliver good matches and raise my level when I needed to, when my team was counting on me.

“It would bring a lot of confidence to anybody to be able to win these matches when you need to. So, hopefully, I can bring that level going forward at the end of the season.”

Because Auger-Aliassime has always been mature beyond his years it’s sometimes easy to forget that, along with Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner of Italy, he’s one of only three players born this century among the Pepperstone ATP Rankings’ Top 25.

The Canadian has always had a healthy respect for tennis history but at the Laver Cup he was fortunate to experience it firsthand as 20-time major champion Roger Federer played his final match, doubles, with Rafael Nadal.

“I think they really did an amazing job of creating a great night of tennis – the speeches, the videos, the singing with the families,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It made it a very emotional night. When you see grown guys tearing up, like kids, without control it just proves how much tennis meant to him, how much he’s going to miss it.”

Auger-Aliassime and his fellow Team World players, reflecting on the powerful effect that Federer had on their early careers, had time to reflect on the debt they owed him.

“It was sad in a way to see him go but, on the other hand, it was a celebration of his career,” Auger-Aliassime said. “How much he’s impacted the world of sports and just to thank him in the end for everything he did. It’s good to know that he’ll be around. I’m really looking forward to his next chapter.”

Auger-Aliassime’s next chapter, based on those recent results, could be intriguing, too. He’s currently seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin and is attempting to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time. One thing in the back of his mind is replicating the searing run he had in February when he reached back-to-back finals in Rotterdam and Marseille.

He took the title in Rotterdam, beating Andy Murray, Cameron Norrie and Andrey Rublev on the way to the final, where he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas. In France, he fell to Rublev in the final.

“I was playing a really good, attacking tennis – really controlled aggression,” Auger-Aliassime said. “When I’m able to do that, and serve well, stay in the rallies, and feeling good physically, I feel like, yeah, I’m one of the most competitive players out there. I can really beat anybody.”

Consistency, however, is his new goal.

“I have trouble in trying to keep up that level and that’s something I’m trying, month by month, year by year, to get better at,” he said. “But I trust with the work and reflecting what I can do better every time, I have no doubt where there’s going to come a point where I can bring that level every time I’m on the court.”

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Tiafoe Meets Curry At NBA Japan Games

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Tiafoe Meets Curry At NBA Japan Games

De Minaur and Osaka were also in attendance

Tennis isn’t the only sporting attraction around Tokyo this weekend. While the 2022 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships are underway with qualifying action, the NBA Japan Games are also taking place nearby in Japan.

The Golden State Warriors — the defending NBA champions — and the Washington Wizards are competing in two preseason games at the Saitama Super Arena, with the first matchup staged on Friday night in front of over 20,000 fans.

Frances Tiafoe, Naomi Osaka and Alex de Minaur were among those in attendance, with Tiafoe getting a chance to meet some of the players before the game.

The American spoke with Stephen Curry and demonstrated the reigning NBA Finals MVP’s trademark ‘Night, Night’ celebration, which he called “one of the coldest cellys I’ve seen” in a Twitter post.

“I got to meet Steph Curry last night, which was great,” Tiafoe said. “He’s one of my idols. Him acknowledging what he saw and saying he’s proud of me for the US Open was pretty special. You’re never going to forget things like that.”

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Tiafoe, who supports the Wizards as his local team, was even on the court for warm-ups, dropping assists during shooting practice.

“It was really cool, especially being from D.C. and the Washington Wizards playing… and them showing love throughout the game” he added. “Just messing around with the guys, throwing some dimes. It’s just fun being around them. I think it’s good for them, too. A little different, a breath of fresh air.”

Tiafoe also plans to attend the second exhibition game between the two teams on Sunday. The support goes both ways, as Wizards star Bradley Beal was seen in his player box during his run to the US Open semi-finals.

Tiafoe has also been using basketball for cross-training, working out with the Wizards staff for a fun way to work on his fitness and recently visiting the team’s practice facility during the NBA’s preseason.

At Friday’s game, Tiafoe also met Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and NBA Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer Mark Tatum. He was even shown on the arena’s big screen, receiving a rousing reception.

The American has also been a special guest at a New York Mets game and a Maryland football game since his career-best run to the US Open semi-finals — a result he followed with a title-clinching performance for Team World at Laver Cup.

A well-established fan favourite on the ATP Tour, Tiafoe’s fame is now crossing over into the general population.

“Since the Open, I think you could say I feel like a star, period,” he said, looking back on what he called “a crazy month and change”.

“It’s definitely different being home, and seeing a bunch of people reacting, and New York, and obviously yesterday,” he added. “But that’s where you want to be. That’s why you work hard and just try to inspire a lot of people. But I’ve still got a lot more to give in this game so I’m going to keep going.”

Tiafoe is seeded fourth in the Tokyo singles draw, and will face Japanese wild card Yasutaka Uchiyama on the opening round. The American will also compete with De Minaur in the doubles competition.

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Alcaraz, Medvedev, Djokovic Learn Astana Fate

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Alcaraz, Medvedev, Djokovic Learn Astana Fate

Rublev, Felix & Sinner hoping to boost Turin hopes in Astana

The 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will begin his quest for a sixth tour-level title of season against fellow 2021 Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals competitor Holger Rune at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan.

The World No. 1, who is competing in his first singles event since winning the US Open, could face former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in the second round if the Swiss star can overcome Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

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In a stacked field, Daniil Medvedev is the second seed. The 26-year-old, who captured his only title of the season in Los Cabos, will play Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the first round. Felix Auger-Aliassime is seeded to meet Medvedev in the quarter-finals, with the Canadian starting against Roberto Bautista Agut.

Auger-Aliassime is currently seventh in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin and will be aiming for a deep run in Astana to boost his Nitto ATP Finals qualification chances.

Fourth seed Novak Djokovic is also in the bottom half of the draw. The Serbian will be aiming to back up his strong run in Tel Aviv with another good result in Kazakhstan. Djokovic opens against Cristian Garin and could meet sixth seed Jannik Sinner in the quarter-finals. Sinner, who is still alive in Sofia this weekend, takes on Oscar Otte in his first match.

Third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and fifth seed Andrey Rublev are both in the top half. Tsitsipas will meet Kazakhstan wild card Mikhail Kukushkin in the first round, while Rublev takes on a qualifier. Rublev is currently sixth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin and could edge closer to qualification with a deep run.

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Ruud Learns Tokyo Path

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2022

Ruud Learns Tokyo Path

Eight of Top 25 to compete at ATP 500 event

Casper Ruud leads the singles field at the 2022 Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, with the Norwegian occupying the draw’s top line as the top seed. Ruud will open play against Spain’s Jaume Munar at the ATP 500 event, with sixth seed Alex de Minaur drawing South Korea’s Soonwoo Kwon, also in the top quarter.

Also in the top half in Tokyo are fourth seed Frances Tiafoe (who meets Yasutaka Uchiyama) and eighth seed Daniel Evans (who faces Radu Albot) in the second quarter.

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Second seed Cameron Norrie will meet Thanasi Kokkinakis in one of the highlight matches of the opening round, with newly crowned San Diego champion Brandon Nakashima a potential second-round opponent. In the same quarter, seventh seed Denis Shapovalov and American Steve Johnson will play for the right to face a qualifier in the second round.

Fifth seed Nick Kyrgios opens against Chun-Hsin Tseng, with third seed Taylor Fritz and Cincinnati champion Borna Coric potential quarter-final opponents for the Aussie.

Five Japanese players are in the main draw, not including potential qualifiers. World No. 56 Yoshihito Nishioka leads the way, with Taro Daniel also inside the Top 100.

Past singles champions in Tokyo include: Stefan Edberg (1987, 1989-91), John McEnroe (1988), Pete Sampras (1993-94, 1996), Lleyton Hewitt (2001), Roger Federer (2006), Rafael Nadal (2010), Andy Murray (2011) and Juan Martin del Potro (2013).

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