The Runner Sports

Kei Nishikori Out For The Remainder Of 2017- What It Means For The Asian Tennis Community

World No. 9 Kei Nishikori announced Wednesday that his 2017 campaign is over due to a lingering right wrist injury. The Japanese player had been plagued by the injury throughout the season, and after speaking with multiple specialists decided to prematurely end his season to not cause any more harm. Nishikori becomes the third top 10 player to end their season due to an injury. Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka also released the similar statements a few weeks ago. Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Milos Raonic, and Marin Cilic also all pulled out of the Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati this week; men’s tennis may be on the cusp of a new superstar after the U.S. Open.

But back to Nishikori, Japan’s and Asia’s highest ranked player, male or female. Without Nishikori’s presence at the U.S. Open, who will there be to root for? Well, due to the¬†popularity of the sport in recent years, Asia’s tennis growth has been noticed in not only Japan, but South Korea and China. Coaches like Carlos Rodriguez, who took WTA player Li Na to No. 2 in the world and the 2014 Australian Open title, have opened academies in the Asian countries to give their full attention to the emerging tennis powerhouse. Rodriguez’s academy is in Beijing. With China, South Korea, and Japan opening their markets to tennis and making sure the right resources are available to their players, there are a lot of up and coming players that can be seen at this year’s U.S. Open. Here are some players that should help you through your Nishikori withdrawal.

Japan’s second highest ranked male player, Yuichi Sugita, is currently ranked No. 46 and competing in the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. The Japanese player has made huge strides in his fitness and game, and the results are coming in. Sugita won his first ATP Tour level title at the Antalya Open, and won his first match at a Grand Slam at Wimbledon this year. With the spotlight on him to carry Japan’s men’s tennis at the U.S. Open this year, look for Sugita to step up to the task.

Japan’s number three, Taro Daniel, is also another player who has put in the work and seen results. Currently ranked No. 97, the 24-year-old has been in a slump lately, losing his last five matches. Maybe with media being able to focus more on him, it will jumpstart some positivity and Daniel can make an impact.

Japan also has a slew of young female players to keep an eye on. The first one that has already impressed commentators and experts is Naomi Osaka. With a booming first serve and lethal forehand, Osaka reached the third round at Charleston, Indian Wells, Wimbledon, and Toronto already this year. She narrowly lost to Madison Keys last year at the U.S. Open, so look for Osaka to cause a few upsets. Another player to keep an eye on is Kimiko Date. At 46-years-old, Date made a return to tennis again this year. While her results have not been great, the Japanese veteran could still use her protected ranking, and be placed in the qualifying for the U.S. Open.

South Korea has also produced some talented up and comers. And while most of these players may not be seen at Arthur Ashe Stadium, it is reassuring to know that South Korea is heading in the right direction as well. Chung Hyeon is South Korea’s top ranked player at No. 49. The 21-year-old has an unusual take back on his serve and forehand, but can produce so much power and spin. Chung has beaten the likes of Alex Zverev, Feliciano Lopez, David Goffin, and Gael Monfils this year, proving he can handle the big occasion. With the right draw, Chung can definitely go far in the Big Apple. Lee Duck-Hee, South Korea’s number two (No. 163) will have to be seen first in the qualifying draw. Lee has overcome many obstacles due to being deaf, but has proven the naysayers wrong by continuing to compete at the professional level. While Lee has never played a Grand Slam event, he’s got an all-round game and is an exceptional athlete, so get a look at him now before he is too popular to take a selfie. South Korea’s highest ranked female player, Jang Su-Jeong will also have to be observed in the qualifying draw. While Jang lacks power, her compact strokes allow her to absorb pace well and re-direct the ball. Jang almost qualified for the French Open this year, losing in the final round.

Asia’s country with the most skilled players at the moment is China. However, China still has not figured out how to produce successful male players. Wu Di, China’s best male player, currently sits at No. 216, so if you were to see him, it would be the qualifying. Qualifying is free to the public though, and that is where one can maybe see the start of a legend. If you want to take a look at China’s top prospect for following in Li’s footsteps, then checkout Wang Qiang. Wang is solid in every department, but experience. She almost took out Venus Williams at Wimbledon this year, fading in the third set. She has reached the second round at the U.S. Open the last three years, so it is about time Wang makes that breakthrough to the next level. If pure power and ball striking are what you want, then Duan Ying-Ying is the player for you. Movement may not be her best attribute, but Duan is a clean ball striker, reminiscent of Lindsay Davenport. When Duan is “on,” she can hang with players, pushing both world No. 2 Simona Halep and No. 10 Agnieszka Radwanska to three sets this year, but the Chinese player is not “on” enough to last a two-hour plus match yet. With all that power and fearlessness, Duan is still an entertaining player to watch.

Of course, there will be other Asian players in the draw, but this fine crop of talented players are the next generation. These are the ones to build on Nishikori and Li’s achievements, and the other trailblazers that came before them. Look for them, starting Aug. 28, at the U.S. Open.

Conrad Ellis

Conrad Ellis

Stevenson University graduate, class of 2016
Played tennis for 14 years and counting, favorite shot is forehand
Conrad Ellis