Kei Nishikori stunned the crowd at the U.S. Open on Wednesday by beating the third-seeded Stan Wawrinka in a grueling match that lasted over 4 hours. With his win, the 24-year-old Nishikori not only advanced to the tournament’s semifinals, he also became the first Japanese man to do so in 96 years.
Before Nishikori takes on Novak Djokovic -- the top seeded male player in the world -- on Saturday, here are five things to know about Japan’s swiftly rising star.
His parents have always wanted him to be a ‘citizen of the world.’
When asked how he chose his son’s name, Nishikori’s father Kiyoshi recently told an interviewer that "I gave him the name because it's easy for foreigners to pronounce, and because I had a vague desire to raise him as a citizen of the world."
Nishikori came to share those ambitions at a very early age, saying in a poem he wrote in elementary school that read “Best in Japan, then I'll go one better than that next, best in the world.”
He left home at 14 to train in Florida.
Nishikori’s interest in the sport began when he first picked up a racket at the age of 5 when his father bought him one during a company vacation to Hawaii. As his skills grew, the family decided to send him to the famed Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida as a 14-year-old in 2004.
Wednesday’s victory was Nishikori’s second 4-hour match of the Open.
Nishikori had already earned a place in the U.S. Open’s record books early Tuesday morning - at 2:26 AM to be exact. That’s when Nishikori emerged victorious after his four hours and 19 minutes match against Milos Raonic, tying for the latest finish in tournament’s history.
His coach is another famous player of Asian descent.
Since January, Nishikori has been coached by former player Michael Chang. Chang himself knows something about upset wins; he beat top player (and three-time French Open champion) Ivan Lendl as a 17-year-old in 1989.
He hopes his home country of Japan is watching.
Although he still lives in Florida, Nishikori said during his post-match press conference on Wednesday that he hopes his big win was “big news in Japan.” He also noted that he always felt particularly at home at the U.S. Open. “I always love to play here because I feel a little bit like home, you know. It's very close where I live. Also a lot of Asian and Japanese fans come up. Always fun to play here,” he said.