Disappointment for Nishikori, but Asia on the rise

Mon Sep 8, 2014 11:07pm EDT
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By Martyn Herman

(Reuters) - Tokyo's morning rush-hour will probably have flowed a little smoother than usual on Tuesday as millions delayed their journeys to find a TV beaming a 24-year-old wielding a tennis racket on a patch of concrete in a suburb of New York.

A tennis player temporarily halting the daily frenzy of life in one of Asia's heaving cities would have seemed fanciful a decade ago before Li Na became an icon for millions of Chinese sports fans with her landmark win at the 2011 French Open.

Three years on and in the season Li added the Australian Open title to her collection, Kei Nishikori's run to the U.S. Open final has shown that the acceleration of Asia as a tennis force is not restricted to the women, even if the men are still playing catch-up.

Nishikori's hopes of winning a maiden grand slam title were ruthlessly crushed by Croatia's Marin Cilic in the final on Monday, but his dream of becoming the first man from an Asian country to win one remains very much alive.

The Japanese, at 24, is still a young pup in tennis terms.

Six years ago he won an ATP tournament in Florida - the first by a Japanese player for 16 years - announcing himself to a nation obsessed with soccer, baseball and golf.

Since then, the ebbs and flows of life as a tennis professional have caused some to question his progress despite ringing endorsements from the likes of Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

Until this year, that is.   Continued...

Kei Nishikori of Japan holds his runner up trophy as he looks at the winner's trophy after being defeated in the men's singles final match by Marin Cilic of Croatia at the 2014 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, September 8, 2014.          REUTERS/Mike Segar