Nishikori says hopes to fill Li void in Asia

Sat Sep 20, 2014 1:31am EDT
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By Ian Ransom

(Reuters) - The retirement of China's Li Na may have robbed Asian tennis of its brightest star, but U.S. Open finalist Kei Nishikori has put up his hand to fill the breach.

With Li's departure, the 24-year-old Japanese is now Asia's top player, having reached a career high ranking of eight after his fairytale run at Flushing Meadows.

"I was shocked. It is sad that I can't see her play anymore," Nishikori told reporters in Hong Kong, where he helped launch the ATP tour's Asian swing of tournaments.

"I think Li Na and some other Chinese ladies have done so many amazing things for Asian tennis.

"She won grand slams that we have never done before. I hope she can still be involved in tennis and I hope I can be the next one to lead Asian tennis."

Having become the first man from an Asian country to reach a grand slam final, Nishikori would appear a worthy successor to the 32-year-old Chinese, who became the continent's first grand slam title winner with her breakthrough at the 2011 French Open.

Li's late-blooming career -- she won at Roland Garros when 29 and at Melbourne Park this year as a 31-year-old -- should also give Nishikori some confidence that his best tennis is ahead of him.

With Li out of the picture, Nishikori is also far and away the continent's top earner, ranked ninth in the sport's top 10 overall, according to an annual survey released by last month.   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