We were hoping our headline would read:
“Woohoo for Kei Nishikori!
Or: “High-fives and aces all around!”
Or: “Nishikori serves!”
Kei Nishikori was undoubtedly a highlight at this year’s U.S. Open, and he made headlines, whether it be a win or loss. Nishikori rallied admiring fans everywhere—not only from Japan and the United States, but all over the world. He was the first Asian to compete in a final U.S. Open tournament. Not only did the finals draw attention because of that, but the two players were outsiders of sorts: both young (Nishikori 24, Marin Cilic 25), and they were not the popular top-seeded tennis celebrities (Nishikori seeded 10th, Cilic 14th).
Nishikori, a diminutive 5’10” (compared to his opponent) was defeated by the towering Croatian Cilic (6’6”). And Cilic did tower over him, and yes, there is no covering/disguising/glossing over the results. Cilic did overplay him, earning his victory. Nishikori experienced defeat, clear and simple.
But it is not the loss that we should focus on. Rather, it is (yes, perhaps cliché)—the journey Nishikori experienced, which garnered an audience eager to see what would happen at this year’s Open. Both finalists were underdogs. Underdogs are always fodder for fans, and Nishikori is especially intriguing. It is not only because he was an underdog, but a true sportsman with aggressive, unique tennis technique. This could be considered surprising considering he is from a culture which can be perceived perhaps, as…passive, and strict, when it comes to training regimen, especially in sports.
What is also unusual is Nishikori came to the United States to train instead of staying in Japan. He left his home country and spent over four years training in Florida, at a prestigious tennis academy, and now with tennis celebrity Michael Chang. We can look beyond the world of tennis matches and respect him for what he has accomplished personally. He crossed cultural boundaries that many would probably not attempt to cross or consider. He did something that is not considered…traditional. Training here, in a host country, must certainly have been a big step to take. Although he lost, it can be counted as a minor victory for both Japan and the United States.
And it will probably end up being a major victory for Nishikori in the future.
Maybe our headline should read: We have the ability to nurture, encourage, and contribute to true talent.
Nishikori has talent, discipline, dedication, and passion. He proved that, and he did it by crossing cultural borders (and embracing ours). And luckily, we got to experience the result of that education.
Win or lose, Kei Nishikori impressed his home country Japan, the United States, and his fans all over the world.
(Oh, he also won an impressive $1.45 million and his sponsors topped that off with another million. Not bad for being a runner-up.)