Japanese Floridian Nishikori Advances to Quarter Finals at Aussie Open

Nishikori will play No. 4 Andy Murray on Wednesday

Nishikori notched another mark Monday when he became the first Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open since the Open Era began in 1968 with an exhausting 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory against former finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.

Earlier this year, he spoke about how more kids in Japan are starting to play tennis in the last three years.  “I think baseball and soccer is one of biggest sports in Japan.  …  Tennis is getting more popular now.”  He was also reflecting his feelings on being in Japan, ” It is special feeling when I go back to Japan. The people sometimes realize me when I walk in the street. But it is something special. Usually you don’t get the feeling.”  He got to be the No. 1 player in Japan.

Kei Nishikori became an automatic celebrity in Japan when he finally broke through last year to top Shuzo Matsuoka’s career-high ranking of No. 46 – the highest ever achieved by a Japanese man when Matsuoka played in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 1995.

Kei Nishikori would not be recognized in any country other than Japan if he was walking down the middle of a street.  In his home nation, Nishikori is a celebrity and the highest-ranked male tennis player.

“I never feel the pressure,” he said. “You know, it’s very honor to make a lot of history, to be the No. 1 player in Japan. But that never gives me the pressure.”

He will play No. 4-ranked Andy Murray, a Scot, on Wednesday in Melbourne.

Whether he’ll be able to recover in time for the contest is the biggest question. Nishikori battled with Tsonga for 3½ hours in the hot sun with temperatures reaching 34C (93F) — his second five-set match of the tournament.

Murray, meanwhile, played his last match against opponent, Mikhail Kukushkin in less than an hour because Kukushkin retired with a hip injury after losing the first two sets.

“Andy, we played last year, end of last year. He kind of destroyed me,” Nishikori said of his 6-3, 6- drubbing by Murray in the semifinals at the Shanghai Masters. “Yeah, it’s going to be tough, but I try to do my best tennis.”

Japanese reporters jammed the journalists area.  And his predecessor in a finals slam, Matsuoaka is rumored to stay in touch with him during the visit to Melbourne.

The Japanese men have not had the acclaim at tennis, other Matsuoka, as the women, like Ai Sugiyama.  Nishikori lives in Bradenton, Florida and has trained at the Nick Bollettieri Academy since he was 14 years old.  Four years later, he became the youngest man to win an ATP title since Lleyton Hewitt in 1998.

To help in in 2010, Nishikori hired Brad Gilbert, a coach that has helped a lot of top players’ games.

With this win he becomes the 1st Japanese man to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 80 years, and he also breaks into the Top 20 for the first time.

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