Hero Worship for Yoshihito Nishioka
By James Henry
(August 14, 2019) CINCINNATI — Across the net was his idol.
Anticipating this moment, Yoshihito Nishioka couldn’t sleep.
He was nervous. He was excited.
Facing Kei Nishikori for the first time, Nishioka decided to simply do his best.
Win. Or, lose.
Ultimately, he won — defeating his nation’s top-ranked player and longtime flag bearer for tennis in Japan.
“I was so excited to play with him, because he’s the hero of the Japanese tennis, most of the Asian tennis,” said Nishioka after his 7-6 (2), 6-4 victory at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
“So, I was very excited to play. I couldn’t sleep yesterday, you know. I know him very well. I was watching him when I was junior. I was learning many things from him.
“That means I know about him, as well. So, I try my best. I know about him. So, I just try go his weakness and what I can do, and then for sure I tried to win the match. But doesn’t matter win or lose. Just try my best against my hero.”
Nishioka, ranked No. 77, said he was going to be a winner regardless against Nishikori, ranked No. 5.
“This is very, I think, important experience for me. Doesn’t matter win or lose. Just play with him. Today I learn many things from him,” the 23-year-old said. “Yes, today very happy, but most happy thing is play with him today.”
Nishioka hopes to someday share the spotlight that now shines brightly on Nishikori and Naomi Osaka, the first Asian player to hold the top ranking in singles and reigning women’s champion at the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
“Yeah, hopefully many spot on me like today, hopefully. You know, now Japanese tennis, only famous players is Kei and Naomi. That’s all. I know they are very good, for sure. They are making top 10 or No. 1. But, you know, they not going to see other players,” Nishioka said.
“So, I want to change that. So, hopefully, they are gonna watch me maybe, like after the match.”
“I want to check tomorrow their morning news what they gonna say,” he said with a smile.
Nishioka’s performance garnered a positive headline from his hero.
“Good to see he’s getting stronger, growing up. You know, I think he has a lot of chance to get more of his ranking up,” the 29-year-old Nishikori said.
“Yeah, I think he can play with anybody now. Happy to see that. He’s playing well.”
They previously practiced together at IMG Academy in Florida.
“He was already good. He has great legs. Getting a lot of balls back. He has good defense,” Nishikori said of Nishioka.
“But I think he’s more solid, more baseline, from the baseline, and he can, you know, sometimes can be aggressive. Yeah, I think a little bit of everything he’s getting better.”
James Henry is covering the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati for Tennis Panorama News.