By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Big US Open for Asian Athletes
The U.S. Open had two major storylines for Asian tennis fans. First, Kei Nishikori made it to the U.S. Open men’s final. The 24-year-old Japanese tennis star made a remarkable run through the tournament. His play during the tournament in New York drew the popularity of Japanese fans that stayed up all night to watch him play and professed to name their first-born after the men’s tennis star. One of Nishikori’s coaches knows about being an underdog in a grand slam tennis tournament: Michael Chang. You may recall that the Chinese American won the French Open in 1989 when he was just 17 years old.
Nishikori began playing tennis at the age of five. His mother is a piano teacher and his father is an engineer. Not knowing a word of English, Nishikori left Japan to train at a sports academy IMG in Bradenton, Fla. Japanese sponsors helped fund his move to Florida so that he could concentrate on being a better player. Nishikori is relatively small in stature, 5 feet 10 inches, in comparison to other tennis players comfortably over 6 feet, but he packs a lot of power.
Nishikori has drawn some of the more memorable matches during the tournament. He defeated the number 1 seeded tennis player in the world, Novak Djokovic. He also had to play over four hours to defeat the number 6 player in the world, Milos Raonic to get to the quarterfinals. The match ended at 2:26 am in the morning and he did not get to bed until 6 a.m. Fortunately, Nishikori did not have to play that day.
With both of his parents watching in person in the U.S. Open Final, Nishikori could not play the way he wanted against Marin Cilic. Perhaps it was a case of nerves or Cilic was just the better player that day. He lost in three straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
In defeat, Nishikori addressed his team and fans, “Sorry I couldn’t get a [first place] trophy today, but for sure next time,” said Nishikori. “It was a fun two weeks.”
Based on his strong performance at the U.S. Open, Nishikri is now the 8th ranked men’s player in the world. It’s the highest he’s been ranked in his career.
On the women’s side, China’s Peng Shuai had the tournament of a lifetime. Peng made a surprising run to the women’s semifinals of the U.S. Open – the farthest she has ever gone in a grand slam as a singles player. The 28-year-old was in a tight match with the 10th ranked women’s player in the world, Caroline Wozniaki, when she experienced leg cramps, which caused her to retire (forfeit) the match. Peng was carted off the tennis court in a wheelchair. The cause of the cramps was due to the extreme heat that they were playing in. She was able to make a full recovery after cooling off.
It was a great individual achievement for Peng despite needing to retire. In addition to her budding play as a singles competitor, she is a top doubles player with her partner, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan. The two are the number 1 doubles team in women’s tennis. This year, they won the title at the French Open and won the doubles title at Wimbledon in 2013.
Peng has an interesting story. She started playing tennis at the age of 8, when she was introduced to the game by an uncle who is a famous tennis coach in China. At age 12, a medical exam revealed that she had to have heart surgery. Many thought that the operation would be the end of her playing career. However, her love for the game of tennis drew her back.
Philippines display solid effort at Basketball World Championships
The Philippines’ men’s National Team gave a solid effort in this year’s Basketball World Championships. The tournament is a pre-cursor to the Summer Olympics two years from now in Brazil. While we may expect Team USA to win the tournament, the Philippines fell short of advancing. Yet, their play was noteworthy.
OK, admittedly they were 1-4 and the team’s only victory was an overtime win against Senegal. Yet, the four losses were all very close and against formidable opponents, including Croatia, Argentina, Greece, and Puerto Rico. All of the countries have had past success in international basketball play.
The team was led by former NBA star Andray Blatche. Most recently, Blatche played with the Brooklyn Nets. He was granted Filipino citizenship, so he could play in the FIBA World Cup. In granting Blatche citizenship, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara stated Filipinos are a “sports-loving nation with a distinct affection for basketball.” The rules according to the International Basketball Federation, or FIBA, states that each team may have one naturalized player in the tournament. It is rumored that the Philippines paid Blatche close to $1 million for his play. It was the first time that the Philippines competed in the World Cup of basketball in 35 years. The acquisition of Blatche was a good choice. He averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per game for the Philippines.
After the tournament ended for the Philippines, Blatche indicated that he would not be able to play with the team in South Korea for the Asian Games. This may not be a problem as Blatche’s former teammate and current Portland Trailblazer, Robin Lopez, has notified them of his availability to play for Team Philippines.
Outside of Manny Pacquiao fights, one might conclude that the Philippines’ national sport is basketball. Even though the national team fell short in the international tournament, there appears to be hope for the future.
Filipino American ball player is one of the newest Lakers
Many people in the Seattle area may believe that their adopted NBA team is the Los Angeles Clippers due to the recent change in ownership as former Microsoft head Steve Ballmer purchased the Clippers for an astronomical $2 billion (yes, with a b). The Clippers also have Seattle area native Jamal Crawford, who has grown his annual summer league tournament here in Seattle into a must-see, with such NBA stars as Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, former UW basketball player Terrence Ross, and teammate Chris Paul playing in the league. Of course, the Clippers are one of the younger and exciting teams in the NBA.
But how about the Lakers? We’ve written about Jeremy Lin. He’ll be under the microscope in Los Angeles as either a starting point guard or the backup to the aging Steve Nash. One other person to be on the lookout for is Jordan Clarkson. Get to know his name. He was drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers out of the University of Missouri this past June. He may see some significant playing time for the Lakers this season as the team rebuilds. Clarkson’s mother is Filipino. At 6’5”, Clarkson should be one of the bigger guards on the Lakers squad and will be the understudy to both Nash and Lin.
If you follow NBA basketball, look for Jordan Clarkson this season.
Cung Le contributes to Vietnamese orphanage
Cung Le, 42-year-old mixed martial artist (MMA), was in the main event at an Ultimate Fighting Championship event this past August in Macau, China. Le, who has had an esteemed kickboxing and MMA career, donated a portion of the proceeds from his fight earnings to an orphanage in Vietnam. Le, who is Vietnamese, wanted to make a difference and decided that the donation of money and supplies would be a good way of giving back. Le lived in two refugee camps when he was young.
Unfortunately for Le, he was decimated in his fight with Michael Bisping, suffering cuts around both eyes making it difficult to see. The fight was eventually stopped due to his injuries. Although Le’s fight did not turn out the way he wanted, his gesture of giving back will be remembered by those he helped.
South Korea wins Little League World Series
The boy’s baseball team from South Korea won the 2014 Little League World Series held in Williamsport, Pa. this past August. The team beat the team from Illinois, the American champion of the tournament. The day before they beat Illinois, South Korea defeated the reigning Little League world champions from Japan. The Japanese team ended up in third place in the tournament after winning the consolation game. It was the first time that South Korea returned to the tournament in 29 years, and the players and their fans enjoyed every minute of their return. The supporters of South Korea wore ceremonial topcoats and waved ornate fans to cheer on the boy’s team. The fans danced to music playing in between innings. The players, still kids, danced before the games.
This year’s Little League event was highlighted by 13-year-old girl pitcher Mo’ne Davis of Chicago. She became a national sensation and a media darling before her team eventually fell. Davis’ stardom underscored the increase fame and pressure of this event. Despite the added scrutiny of this event, which is covered by ESPN and treats the kids like big-league players, most of the kids were still able to just have fun like the team from South Korea. (end)
Jason Cruz can be reached at email@example.com.