Nishioka Ready For The Spotlight After Beating ‘Hero’ Nishikori
Kei Nishikori has achieved celebrity status in Japan with his career on the ATP Tour. But after scoring his first Top 10 win by defeating the man he described as his “hero” on Wednesday at the Western & Southern Open, Yoshihito Nishioka is ready for his own closeup.
“I want to check the morning news tomorrow to see what they’re going to say. Hopefully many spotlight on me,” said Nishioka, cracking a smile. “In Japanese tennis, the only famous players are Kei and Naomi [Osaka]. I want to change that. Hopefully [fans] are going to maybe watch me after the match today.”
In a battle between the two highest-ranked Japanese players on the ATP Tour, it was Nishioka who played like a seasoned veteran. He racked up 12 break points and converted three, hammered serves that clocked in at more than 120 miles per hour and came up with clutch shots at crucial moments.
The 23-year-old Nishioka may not have looked nervous, but that didn’t reflect how he felt. He admitted to intense nerves and the dream of facing his idol led to a sleepless night before the match.
“I was so excited to play with him because he’s the hero of Japanese tennis. I couldn’t sleep yesterday,” said Nishioka. “I was watching him when I was a junior and learning many things from him. I just was trying my best against my hero. I’m very happy today, but most happy about playing with him.”
Nishikori isn’t a total stranger to him, though. Nishioka used to train during his junior days at the IMG Academy in Florida, where Nishikori is still based, and shared the court with him for practice sessions.
“We played with each other many times in practice. The first time was maybe six or seven years ago. But it’s a very different feeling playing a match,” said Nishioka. “I was always nervous practising with him, but even more nervous today.”
With the pressure of facing his hero off the table, Nishioka can get the night of rest he’ll need as he next faces #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur. Having come through qualifying this week, their showdown will be Nishioka’s fifth match in six days. But with a chance to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final, he’s ready to make another push.
“Right now I’m feeling very good,” said Nishioka. “I got the chance to go as far as I can. I want a higher [ATP Ranking]. My body’s a little bit tired, but I can’t say that. I’ll just try my best.”