Andre Agassi tells TIME of Nishikori: “Kei is one of the few players that I’d pay money to see play. He’s one of the greatest shotmakers in the game, so I don’t see why he can’t proceed further [up the rankings].”
Hannah Beech writes, “Many Japanese don’t consider Nishikori completely Japanese anymore: his aggressive prowling of the baseline and his leaping forehand aren’t products of Japanese-style tennis, which tends to favor skill and finesse over power and brio…The fact that Nishikori’s game was shaped overseas raises an uncomfortable question about Japan: Why have so many of the nation’s most accomplished citizens had to leave home in order to thrive?”
Nishikori explains why many Japanese don’t consider him to be completely Japanese anymore: “Culturally, maybe Asians don’t tend to have as much confidence as Americans do. I’m Japanese, of course, but spending so long in America has made me into a different kind of person…I love Japan and it’s my home, but I can’t really relax here.”
Nishikori’s father, Kiyoshi, explains the lack of successful tennis players from Japan: “Japanese tennis players have not been very successful because their individualism is weak compared to overseas players.” Nishikori’s longtime agent, Olivier van Lindonk, adds: “Japan’s such a respectful culture, but you don’t get ahead in tennis by bowing.”
On his decision to leave his Japanese hometown for the U.S. to pursue tennis, Nishikori says: “I knew immediately I wanted to go to Florida. I would do anything for tennis.”
On the initial struggles he faced adjusting to American culture: “I didn’t know how to express my opinions. I was a bit afraid to say what I thought because I hadn’t yet been influenced by American culture…In English, you can more easily say what you want. It’s so open and natural. I really appreciate that.”
When asked about his 2008 match with Andy Roddick, Nishikori’s smile vanishes: “I’d rather not talk about it. It’s a bit rude to discuss all that. I don’t want to say something bad about another player.”
Playing in Brisbane this week, Nishikori is through to the semifinals after a 6-0, 6-4 win over Australian Bernard Tomic. He will play Milos Raonic in the semifinals.
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