Thanx for great pics, Gambillfan!
Woohoo Kei's looking cute!
Great result from him yesterday, which was his first real test this week. He must be one hell of a fighter to fend off all those MPs before clinching his own MP on the first opportunity!
Also I think he's improved vastly since last year. I only saw him play (and lose) doubles at AIG Open in Tokyo, granted he was playing with Go Soeda, with whom he played doubles for the first time, and I thought he had a good court semse, but unfortunately he didn't play that well on that particular day. I also remember him having no answer to Tursunov's serve in Indianapolis last summer. Sure Dima is a better player than Querrey, but from what I read about yesterday's match, he's become tactically smarter and his shot selection seems to have become a whole lot better.
Sure Blake will be a much tougher opposition, and Kei must be feeling very tired from playing for 8 consecutive days, but I wish him all the best and I don't mind a miracle happening!
Japanese media, which usually ignores tennis apart from some abysimal reports during grand slams, started paying attention on Kei as well. Some quality newspapers yesterday carried stories about his victory over Reynolds. They were small articles but not a brif. Maybe tomorrow they will carry his photo!
Btw, it seems Richard Evans of Tennis Week has become Kei's big fan!
After the quarterfinals:
The Evans report: Special Kei
Kei Nishikori — not a name the tennis world had heard much about before this week. But get used to it because the 18-year-old from a small town near Hiroshima by way of Bollettieri’s Academy is going to win a lot of tennis matches in the coming months.
The 18-year-old Nishikori has already won six (three in qualifying) here at Delray Beach this week and today he never looked like doing anything but reach his first semifinal on the ATP circuit as he outhit Bobby Reynolds (one of six Americans in the last eight) 6-2, 6-4.
Getting a default midway through his first round match from No 5 seed Florian Mayer and then coming back from a set down to beat Amer Delic is a good effort but hardly a guarantee of success in the demanding world of today’s pro tour. But let me tell you why this open, smiling teenager is going to be the biggest thing Japanese tennis has seen since Shuzo Matsuoka.
Two shots told me much of what I wanted to know. Reynolds, who serves big, hit a kicking second ball to Nishikori’s backhand. In a flash, the young man danced around onto his forehand and smashed a huge shoulder height winner down the line. Quite rightly, Reynolds looked stunned. But the American came up with a good deep shot onto Nishikori’s backhand on the next point only to watch his opponent speed onto the ball and, with perfect balance, hit a screaming backhand up the line with very little to aim at.
Two shots and I was a believer. No wonder Nishikori answered "Roger Federer" when asked which player he admired most. Not a big man, he moves with the same silky and speed and perfect balance of the world No 1. That’s not to say he will ever be as good as Federer but he has some of the essential tools to make him a major player in this game.
Interestingly, Nishikori revealed that he had practiced for two weeks with Federer last summer. "I think he’s funny guy. So nice. He helped me a lot."
Nishikori spoke no English ("Hello" maybe,” he chuckled) when he took the huge decision to leave his family behind in Japan and go to Bollettieri’s at the age of 14. He was helped financially by Sony executive Masaaki Morita as part of that company’s policy to assist young tennis players. The results have been startling. Now one of the Academy’s prized pupils, Nishikori says he is surprised by reaching the semifinals here. "But I was not nervous," he said after beating Reynolds. "I played well in previous rounds and my coach Glenn Weiner told me I could win."
From a slow beginning this likeable kid has obviously adapted well. He was helped no doubt as a result of rooming with Zack Gilbert, Brad’s boy, who taught him all about American sports.
"But at the beginning I was so afraid," he said. "I was shy but all the Americans were very friendly and now the only thing I do not like is the food. Sorry but I like taste of Japanese food — not hamburgers."
What Kei obviously does like is the taste of winning — and he’ll be doing more of that in the future.
Sam Querrey is on the march, too. The tall 20-year-old Californian served too well and was too effective at the net for Vince Spadea, the perennial favorite in these parts who was appearing in this event for a record 11th time. Querrey reached the semifinal — and a match up with Nishikori — by 6-2, 6-4.
After the semifinals:
The Evans report: Kei reaches first final
Kei Nishikori, the 18-year-old from Japan, pulled off an astonishing win in the semifinal of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships here when he saved four match points in the third set tiebreaker before beating Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(7).
Nishikori advanced to his first career ATP final where he will play 2007 finalist James Blake on Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
The top-seeded Blake beat friend and fellow American Robby Ginepri, 6-4, 6-4. Ginepri held a 3-1 lead in the second set, but after Blake broke for 4-4, Ginepri checked out mentally, rapidly dissolving in the next two games.
At 6-3 to the tall American in the breaker, Nishikori showed his fighting spirit as well as his innate talent for the game by chasing all over the court before ending up in a quick fire volley exchange at the net that he terminated with a unanswerable forehand. For the last twenty minutes of this riveting contest the Bollettieri student was obviously feeling the effects of having played seven matches in eight days – a work load he is not used to. Often, Nishikori took breathers in the shade at the back of the court and tapped his thigh muscles – a tell tale sign that cramp was pending.
Querrey, on the other hands, had foregone the chance to be on the U.S. Davis Cup squad for the final against Russia in Portland, Oregon last November so that he could build up his strength. Apart from practice sessions with Pete Sampras, Querrey had pounded the sands on Malibu beach and the effort seemed to be paying rich dividends. The Californian’s form has picked up this year and he arrived here on the back of a good Australian Open that included a fine win over Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov. His first appearance in an ATP final would have given him another big lift but it was not to be.
The match hinged on Querrey’s first serve. When he got it in – as he did 63 percent of the time – Nishikori rarely had a play on the ball. But as soon as Sam had to rely on a second serve, he knew he was likely to end up second best. Off the ground, Nishikori could control the points and run his gangling opponent all over the court. He could also come up with some stunning outright winners, too, and frequently took Querrey out of the play with a sudden acceleration of speed, both of foot and shot.
Querrey had managed to dominate the first set with his serving but when the lightly-built Japanese attacked with style and gusto to take the second, the normally laid-back Querrey threw his racket to the ground in frustration and earned himself a code of conduct warning. Querrey, serving ahead in the deciding set, broke in the first game; led 3-1 and then had a chance to break again when he had his opponent 30-40 down but Nishikori, who does not panic, came up with a center line ace smack on the line.
After Nishikori had leveled at six points each in the breaker, Querrey reached match point again at 7-6 but still could not prevent Kei from imposing himself on the point and conjuring up the kind of angles that will carry him up the ATP ranking list at a fair old gallop. Already he will rise from his pre-tournament position of 244 to approximately 146 – and that’s if he loses in tomorrow’s final. In the meantime he has become the first Japanese man to reach a final on the pro tour since Shuzo Matsuoka lost to Wayne Ferreira in the final of the Stella Artois Championships at the Queen’s Club in London in 1992.
Afterwards, a smiling Nishikori admitted he had been disappointed with the way he played in the first set. "I was not moving well," he admitted. "But now I am so happy."
Quickly, however, he added, "But I have one more tomorrow." Until the final is over he will not call his parents in Japan. "It is wrong time," he said. "And I used to do it half way through tournament and then lose. Not good."