Tokyo - Tennis fans emerged into Japan's early morning sunshine dejected but proud on Tuesday after Kei Nishikori's bid to become the first Asian man to win a grand slam singles title came to a shuddering halt in New York.
Nishikori's crushing 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 defeat by Croatian Marin Cilic in the US Open final ended at breakfast time in Japan.
Thousands of fans across the country had woken at the crack of dawn to watch their hero do battle in a contest between little and large.
"Blimey, look at the size of him!" joked dental nurse Kayoko Hashimoto in a Tokyo sports bar as the players shook hands before the match. "Nishikori looks like a midget."
An hour later with the 1.98 metre (6ft 6in) tall Cilic dominating his 1.78m (5ft 10in) opponent, the 27-year-old was staring forlornly into her beer glass with more than 80 other hardcore fans who had seen their hopes shattered.
"I'm so proud of Nishikori, even if he lost," said hair stylist Hotaru Shoda, 24. "He did a fantastic job. All Japanese people should be proud of him."
Her sentiments were echoed by natives of Nishikori's home town of Matsue in the rural province of Shimane, western Japan, where more than 900 cheering fans packed a convention hall to watch the match on a big screen, with hundreds more unable to get in.
"There was a lot of groaning," city official Kazufumi Morie told AFP by telephone. "Nishikori is still the first Japanese man to reach a grand slam final, so for the people of Matsue we are very, very proud."
Former Davis Cup captain Eiji Takeuchi said: "Nishikori isn't the biggest guy but he has given hope to Japanese children who will think 'I can do that too.'
"His style is fun to watch. He's leaving a legacy as we move forward to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by making tennis a high-profile sport."
Morning commuters in Tokyo poked their heads through bar windows to check on the match but a quick look at the screen persuaded most to carry on briskly to the train station.
"Kei beat (Novak) Djokovic (in the semi-finals), he can still beat this guy!" a defiant Daisuke Kuribayashi insisted with a beery slur as Nishikori slipped two sets down, triggering a stampede for another round of beers.
The 26-year-old, who works in a toy shop, was sensibly urged by his friends to have a coffee.
Nishikori's previous best Grand Slam performance had been in reaching the last eight of the 2012 Australian Open, and not since Kimiko Date-Krumm reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1996 has Japan witnessed tennis fever on this scale.
As Cilic served to deliver the coup de grace, Japanese fans broke out into the football chant "Nippon! Nippon!" ("Japan") - before sportingly applauding the champion as he held the trophy aloft as a female television presenter broke down in tears on air.
"I wanted him to stop bullying little Kei," said Haruka Igarashi, a 24-year-old sales assistant. "Cilic was too strong. It was like watching Colombia beat Japan (4-1) at the World Cup."