Japanese tennis stars try to restore hope after SWC loss

2018-07-03 18:46
Kei Nishikori (Getty)

London - Japan's tennis players tried to salvage some national sporting pride at Wimbledon on Tuesday after the country's football team went crashing out of the World Cup in heartbreaking fashion.

Kei Nishikori led the way, beating his good friend Christian Harrison in four sets to kick off his campaign at the All England Club.

Japanese sports fans were left reeling after the football side blew a 2-0 second-half lead against Belgium in the World Cup round of 16 in Russia, losing 3-2 with Nacer Chadli scoring a dramatic winner in the fourth minute of injury time on Monday.

PICS: Japanese fans break down in tears after World Cup heartache

But in southwest London, Nishikori, the 24th seed, beat US qualifier and world No 198 Harrison 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2. The pair are mates from their time training together in Florida.

The Japanese said it was tough to play competitively for the first time against his practice partner, whom he said had an even worse injury record than himself.

"It was not easy. If I can have the choice, I don't want to play with good friends. He's having a really tough tennis life. He has so many injuries, he can't do anything. But he's coming back all the time," said Nishikori.

"He's one of the hard workers on the tour. I see him all the time with injuries. It's kind of similar to me. More than me.

"I'm happy to see him on the main draw here. He was playing good tennis again. I hope he can keep going. I'm sure he's going to break the top 100 soon."

Nishikori is hoping to get past the Wimbledon fourth round for the first time in 10 attempts.

He admits he has found it tough to shine on grass in the past, with injuries often hampering his bid to replicate his impressive hard-court play.

Nishikori reached the US Open final in 2014 and made the semi-finals in New York two years later, but he has never made it beyond the last eight at any other major.

"Points finish much faster than the other courts and surfaces. Everybody has to play a little more aggressive, more so than on the other surfaces. I like to play at the net. It's been working well," the Japanese number one said.

"Serve and return is very important here. You've got to really commit yourself to play very solid tennis. If you give them one chance, the game will change soon. So far I don't have a good result yet, but I like to play."

Nishikori faces unpredictable Australian Bernard Tomic, a lucky loser from qualifying, in the second round on Wednesday.

Meanwhile Yuichi Sugita was left bemoaning the same luck as the Japanese football team.

Sugita, the world No 69, was beaten 2-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-2, 6-2 by US qualifier Bradley Klahn, ranked 168, leaving him a dejected figure.

"I was pretty sad because this is my favourite court and it was not a good result. It's not great, for sure," Sugita told AFP.

"I lost big momentum because I had a set point for the second set and I lost easy. I lost confidence and then the momentum.

"I'm sad."

He said of Japan's defeat to Belgium: "They also lost the momentum after 2-0 so it's the same as me, so not good for Japan."

In Tuesday's later matches at Wimbledon, Kurumi Nara was to face Simona Halep, the top seed, world number one and French Open champion, on Centre Court.

Meanwhile Taro Daniel was up against Italian 19th seed Fabio Fognini on the Court 18 show court.

Read more on:    wimbledon  |  kei nishikori  |  tennis


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