Kei Nishikori won the bronze medal in the men's singles tennis at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games on Aug. 15 after he defeated Spain's Rafael Nadal in a match underscoring his ability to go at his own pace -- including during a lengthy bathroom break.
During his career as a junior player, Nishikori received support from former Sony Corp. executive Masaaki Morita, who at 85 is now honorary chairman of the Japan Tennis Association. Morita invested his own money to set up the Masaaki Morita Tennis Fund, which enables promising junior players to train overseas. At the age of 13, Nishikori received support from the fund and traveled to the United States to train as a tennis player.
Morita had a goal of training players who could play boldly and win overseas. At the Rio Games, Nishikori has done just that -- winning Japan's first Olympic tennis medal in 96 years.
In the bronze medal match against Nadal, a former world No. 1 player, Nishikori took a bathroom break before the third set, when the set count stood at one apiece. After nearly 15 minutes had passed, Nishikori had yet to show. An irate Nadal appealed to the judge, and the spectators booed. Yet Nishikori's expression remained unchanged when he returned to the court, and he stayed focused on the game. Nishikori said he was able to switch his frame of mind and secure confidence.
Former professional tennis player Shuzo Matsuoka, who trained Nishikori when he was an elementary school student, said he thought Nishikori's confident approach enabled him to win.
"A Japanese player facing off against Nadal -- and at the Olympics what's more -- would think 'I've got to get back quickly.' I think players who see themselves at the center of things are the kind who can win in this type of arena," he said.
Morita's motivation for setting up the fund was the same. He recalls seeing a Japanese player at a grand slam tournament still sitting in the corner of the changing rooms though their match was approaching. Morita thought, "With that attitude, they've half lost before they've even played. Players from other countries go and warm up no matter who else is around." Spurred by that scene, he decided that he wanted to raise players who could fully exert their ability in any country, prompting him to set up the fund.
Nishikori's skills advanced in the U.S. as he remained focused on becoming the world's No. 1 player. Morita had the idea that to become strong, a player wouldn't worry about his surroundings. And Nishikori turned into such a player.
"From his junior player days, he has steadfastly stuck to his own pace. When he goes into a match he's focused, and doesn't worry what anyone else thinks -- otherwise, you can't win on the world stage," Morita says.
It appears that the winning techniques Nishikori picked up during his junior career gave him the psychological strength to display his power at the Olympic Games, where the pressure is on competitors.(By Hiroaki Asatsuma, Mainichi Shimbun)