Tennis star Nishikori mania hits Japan

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

TOKYO (AP) — Surging tennis star Kei Nishikori is all the rage in Japan after becoming the first Asian player to reach the U.S. Open men's final. His Uniqlo-brand tennis shirts have sold out, as have the Wilson rackets he uses. Thousands of people have signed up for the satellite TV channel showing the U.S. Open. Many Japanese plan to wake up early Tuesday Japan time to see if Nishikori can make history again when he faces Marin Cilic from Croatia in the finals.



Tennis players have snapped up Wilson Steam 95 rackets, which have been out of stock since late August, according to Windsor Corp., a leading tennis equipment store chain. The rackets have been popular since Nishikori's victory in the Barcelona Open in April. Now dozens of people are on the waiting list and customers are also buying the shoes, racket strings and grip tape used by the star, Windsor says. His Uniqlo U.S. Open "Dry Ex" shirts have also sold out. They attracted attention because the company also sponsors No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, which made the Nishikori-Djokovic semifinal match a duel between Uniqlo wearers.



Satellite TV operator WOWOW, which has exclusive rights to broadcast the U.S. Open live in Japan, has been flooded with calls from people trying to get last-minute subscriptions. Company spokesman Yutaka Toyoshima said subscription requests surged from earlier this month and peaked Sunday, with more than 10 times as many as usual. The company is working around the clock to process the subscriptions, he said.



In 2012, when Nishikori made the quarterfinals in the Australian Open, Tadashi Yanai, chairman of Uniqlo's parent company, Fast Retailing, reportedly promised Nishikori a large bonus if he wins a Grand Slam. A big question now in Japan is: Is it true? Uniqlo official Keiko Yamamoto declined to comment, saying the contract was confidential.



Nishikori mania is even spilling over to an instant noodle brand. Nissin Food Products Co., a sponsor since 2008, says there may be a special reward for the star if he wins. The company has sold a special Kei Nishikori version of instant noodles in the past, and there may be another. Company spokesman Masashi Kanaya said Nishikori's "fresh and healthy image, as well as his powerful style seeking to climb to the top" are a perfect match for the company's identity.



Hopes for a Nishikori victory are also running high in the government. Chief government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Monday a win would be "a historic event not only for Japan but for all of Asia, so I really would like to see him make history." Officials say Nishikori could get a congratulatory phone call from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.