Nishikori Leads Strong Japanese Force On ATP World Tour
When Kei Nishikori made his ATP World Tour debut in April 2007, there were zero Japanese players in the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. Only one player – Shuzo Matsuoka – had ever won a title on the ATP World Tour (1992 Seoul).
When Matsuoka retired from professional tennis in 1998, he immediately turned his attention to the future of the sport. "The moment I retired, I set up tennis camps for children aged 10-18 with the objective of helping young Asians to attain a Top 100 ranking," he told ATPWorldTour.com in 2008.
Today, there are seven Japanese players in the Top 200 (Rankings as of October 1):
|Rank||Player||Age||Career-High ATP Rank||Titles|
|12||Kei Nishikori 錦織 圭||28||No. 4 (March 2015)||11|
|72||Taro Daniel ダニエル 太郎||25||No. 64 (August 2018)||1|
|95||Yoshihito Nishioka 西岡 良仁||23||No. 58 (March 2017)||1|
|110||Yuichi Sugita 杉田 祐一||30||No. 36 (October 2017)||1|
Tatsuma Ito 伊藤 竜馬
|30||No. 60 (October 2012)||-|
Hiroki Moriya 守屋 宏紀
|27||No. 143 (January 2015)||-|
|191||Go Soeda 添田 豪||34||No. 47 (July 2012)||-|
Additionally, over the past year-and-a-half, three Japanese players have joined Matsuoka and Kei Nishikori in the winners' circle on the ATP World Tour.
Kei Nishikori 錦織 圭
Age 28, Career-High No. 4 (March 2015), 11 titles
As a child, Nishikori attended tennis camps led by Matsuoka and set a goal of breaking his countryman’s career-high ranking of No. 46. Nishikori left Shimane at the age of 13 to train at Nick Bollettieri’s academy in Florida, and a mere five years later in Delray Beach, became the youngest ATP titlist since Lleyton Hewitt. “I can see he is a better player than I ever was, already,” said Matsuoka in 2008.
Nishikori matched Matsuoka’s mark in August 2011, but it wasn’t until his semi-final run at the Rolex Shanghai Masters later that year that he achieved 'Project 45' as he rose to No. 30. He continued to lead the way for Japan – and Asia – in the ensuing years, winning an additional 10 titles, reaching a career-high World No. 4, contesting a Grand Slam final, thrice qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals, finishing a season as the highest-ranked Asian in ATP World Tour history and more.
“I’m happy to hear all the new record or whatever, but my goal is not to make new records in Asia, it's to be one of the best players in the world,” said Nishikori in 2015. “There's more things to do, but I am having fun on this journey.”
This season, Nishikori saw his ranking fall to as low as World No. 39 – his lowest placement since October 2011 – after starting the year on the comeback trail, but he returned to Tokyo this week at No. 12 in the ATP Rankings. “I think I’m back at a great level again. I just have to keep 100 per cent every tournament, every match, and just keep being positive, keep my confidence there, and just enjoy playing the matches,” he said.
My First Title: Nishikori Remembers 2008 Delray Beach
(October 2014) The Kei Effect: Nishikori’s Impact On Asian Tennis
(May 2014) From ‘Project 45’ To Top 10
(Nov 2008) Nishikori: Project 45 No Longer A Secret
Taro Daniel ダニエル 太郎
Age 25, Career-High No. 64 (August 2018), 1 Title
Daniel grabbed headlines this past March, when he overcame nerves and a winless record against Top 20 opposition to stun five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic in front of a packed house on Stadium 1.
While that victory came on hard courts, Daniel’s other milestones have been on clay. In 2014, he made his tour-level debut as a qualifier in Vina del Mar, and proceeded to beat former champion Thomaz Bellucci in the first round. This past May, Daniel claimed his first ATP World Tour title at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open, beginning his climb towards a career-high No. 64 ATP Ranking by August.
Daniel, who began playing tennis with his father on clay courts in Japan, explained that his international upbringing contributed to his affinity for the surface. “I was born in the U.S., my father is American and has a job that made us travel around the world,” he said. “We had the chance to go to Spain and that was great for me to practise at a higher level. That’s when I got to play more on clay-courts and the reason why I play better on that surface than most of the other Japanese players.”
Yoshihito Nishioka 西岡 良仁
Age 23, Career-High No. 58 (March 2017), 1 Title
Nishioka became the newest Japanese champion on the ATP World Tour, when he won seven matches in eight days to triumph at last week’s Shenzhen Open as a qualifier. The 5’8” Mie native, who began playing tennis with his father at the age of four, enjoyed a breakthrough in 2017; Nishioka moved up to a career-high No. 58 in the ATP Rankings in March after qualifying and reaching the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open. But only a week later, he tore his ACL in the second round of the Miami Open and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Nishioka, who saw Yuichi Sugita and Taro Daniel lift trophies during his injury layoff and comeback, shared that their success gave him extra motivation. “If they are doing well, my own mental belief is pumping up and I need to do more. I go harder in training and practice and I want to get a trophy as well. If they are doing well, I want to do more... I think it is really good for Japanese tennis right now.”
Yuichi Sugita 杉田 祐一
Age 30, Career-High No. 36 (October 2017), 1 Title
Last April, Sugita joined an exclusive club that had previously only included Matsuoka and Nishikori. “Before the final, I heard that if I win the tournament, I will be the third Japanese player to win on the ATP World Tour,” he said at the time. “This was amazing. I made my first semi-final here, then the final and the title. I just played my best tennis and I'm really proud of the way I played.”
With his triumph on grass at the inaugural Antalya Open, Sugita broke into the Top 50 – 11 years after he first turned pro, and 21 years after he started playing tennis with mother. He continued his rise by reaching his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 quarter-final in Cincinnati. From a No. 136 ATP Ranking in February 2017, he climbed 100 spots to No. 36 by October.
Back on his favourite surface this past June, Sugita played what he called “the best match of my career” to upset then-World No. 7 Dominic Thiem. It marked his second Top 10 win this season, including his win over No. 9 Jack Sock at the Australian Open.