Former Sony Corp. executive Masaaki Morita is getting a historic payoff from his investment in tennis player Kei Nishikori.
Nishikori, whose tennis education in the U.S. was sponsored by the Masaaki Morita Tennis Fund, won another five-set match last night in New York to become the first Japanese man in 96 years to reach the U.S. Open semifinals.
Tenth-seeded Nishikori, 24, outlasted No. 3 Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in four hours, 15 minutes to reach the final four of this year’s last Grand Slam tennis tournament.
“It’s not like I love to play five sets, but I have a lot of confidence to play in the fifth,” Nishikori said in a news conference. “I get more concentration and my tennis is getting better playing in the fourth or fifth sets.”
Nishikori’s win came less than 48 hours after he defeated No. 5 Milos Raonic of Canada in another five-set match that lasted 4:19 and tied a U.S. Open record by ending at 2:26 a.m.
“From outside he looks really dead, but we know on the court he can play, and he can play long,” Wawrinka said in a news conference. “If even at the beginning he looks like he’s going to die on the court, physically he’s there.”
Nishikori next will face top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who won the 2011 U.S. Open title. Djokovic won his quarterfinal match 7-6 (7-1), 6-7 (1-7), 6-2, 6-4 against No. 8 Andy Murray of the U.K., the 2012 champion.
Making the semifinals means Nishikori will earn at least $730,000 at the U.S. Open, bringing his earnings this year to almost $2.6 million and his career winnings to almost $6.2 million.
Nishikori moved from Shimane, Japan, to the U.S. at age 14 to train at the IMG Bollettieri Academy in Florida. His training was covered by Morita’s fund, which sponsors four young Japanese players each year.
Morita, 87, who was a deputy president at Sony and the younger brother of company founder Akio Morita, said he woke up early this morning to watch the entire match on television.
“I have dreamed of sending a world champion from Japan, and feel my dream is coming close to being realized,” Morita, an honorary president of the Japan Tennis Association, said in a telephone interview.
The only Japanese player ever ranked in the top 10 of the ATP men’s tour, Nishikori will be playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal. His only quarterfinal appearance in a major before yesterday’s match was at the 2012 Australian Open.
Nishikori is the first Japanese man to reach the semifinals in New York since Ichiya Kumagae in 1918, when the tournament was known as the U.S. Championships. He is the first Japanese player to reach the semifinals at one of the sport’s four Grand Slam events since Jiro Satoh at Wimbledon in 1933.
Traders in Tokyo watched at their desks as the match ended about 7:30 p.m. yesterday in New York -- 8:30 a.m. today in Japan.
“It’s a remarkable achievement,” said Hiroaki Hiwada, a Tokyo-based strategist at Toyo Securities Co. (8614) “I’d noticed him in the sports pages yesterday, but if he wins it might push up some of his sponsor companies.”
Nishikori broke Wawrinka’s serve in the final game of the match to finish off a 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (9-7), 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 win against the Swiss player, who won this year’s Australian Open and reached the U.S. Open semifinals last year.
“I doubt the sponsors will see any immediate response, but long term it’s very positive because if he gets to the final you are likely to see a huge pickup in all things tennis-related in Japan.”
(An earlier version corrected Morita’s title at Sony.)
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