There were 24 requests for one-on-one interviews, he was trailed by half a dozen camera crews from hotel lift and back again, each of his press conferences was standing room only and he carried off all that he was asked to do with a smile, good humor and oceans of patience. It looks as if any 18-year-old can handle the demands placed on a teenager who becomes Japan's No 1 male tennis player, that young man is Kei Nishikori.
There are exceptional burdens on Roger Federer in Switzerland, Rafael Nadal in Spain, Richard Gasquet in France, Andy Roddick in the United States and, for certain, Andy Murray in Britain but they pale when placed alongside the ferment generated by Nishikori's rise to prominence. He agreed to speak to Yomiuri Shimbun (the newspaper with the world's biggest circulation at 14 million), NHK (Japan's national television station) and Nikkei (the Japanese equivalent of the Financial Times), attended the draw ceremony, the tournament's welcome party, functions for his sponsors Sony, adidas and Wilson and played in AIG Sunday, a series of exhibition matches named for the tournament sponsor, on the day before the event before in front of 9,455 paying spectators. And that is before he struck a ball in earnest.
The Net Post was much in demand at the US Open last month to debate Murray's run to the men's singles final and second to those requests were ones from Japanese TV asking for a foreign writer's insight into young Mr Nishikori. 'Polite' was the first word that sprang to mind, 'personable' a close second and 'quiet' the third. One was reminded of some time spent chatting to him in the lounge at the Queen's Club during the Artois championships in the summer (actually, it was a bit of a monologue because the lad doesn't say a great deal) and when next spotted, he had his head in a book, keeping up with his studies. It was not something you had often witnessed in the hustle and bustle of such places at a men's professional tournament.
Nishikori who lives and trains at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, has a heaven sent talent for the game, a wonderful ability to play it as if he really enjoys every minute and if Murray's match against Rafael Nadal in the semi finals was the match most remembered for its significance from a parochial standpoint, the next best was Nishikori's five set victory over David Ferrer, the No.4 seed from Spain, which secured for him the distinction of being the first Japanese male in 71 years to reach the fourth round of the championship. It was full of flashing, uninhibited stroke play, the nub of it being Nishikori's flamethrower of a forehand, for he likes nothing more than to step around his backhand and flick his forehand into his opponent's backhand corner.
Ferrer remarked: "He's a very good player, no? I know that. I saw him last year in Tokyo and I like the way he played very much, so today, it's not a surprise. For sure, he will be a very good player." But playing abroad is one thing, playing at home, is something quite different. Last week, Nishikori was the star of the AIG Open in the Japanese capital, Toyko where he lost in the third round to Gasquet, nothing to be ashamed of.
Sponsors - especially those based in his home land- are clamoring for him. He has a mega-three year deal with the Sony Corporation, the electronics giant founded in Japan but there are more homely elements to the portfolio being gathered on his behalf. Special Kei (Geddit!) has signed an endorsement and patch deal with Nissin Food Products, the maker of Cup o' Noodles - "The sustenance of choice for college kids around the world." Nissin, so the Net Post has learnt, also manufacturers the popular Ramen instant noodle mix.
"I have loved ramen since I was a little boy," Nishikori said. "Instant noodles is a food culture that Nissin has spread all over the world and it always reminds me of Japan. Diet is a very important aspect of my life as a professional athlete and will be a key factor to my success as a tennis player." How could it have been better put?
Nishikori is the centre-point of a little whiz called Project 45 which refers to the last major Japanese success on the ATP Tour. During his 13-year career, Shuzo Matsuoka became a cult hero in Japan and reached a career-high ranking of No.46 in 1992. The logic is that Nishikori's target should be to surpass that ranking, after which the marketing opportunities would be even more substantial. Olivier van Lindonk, his manager at IMG says: "The objective is to build a platform to lift the entire game of tennis in Japan." To which Nishikori replies: "Matsuoka has been the only top-50 player from Japan and I really respect him so much, what he did was truly amazing."
Nishikori, who won his first tournament this year in Delray Beach (when he beat James Blake, a top ten player from a set down in the final) began last week at No.84 on the ATP rankings and plays in the IF Stockholm Open this week, where the attention may not be so constant. Nicola Arzani, the vice president of media and marketing for the ATP, had not seen anything to match the Nishikori buzz since the days when Boris Becker lauded it over Germany. "I didn't understand a word of what he was saying in Japanese to the media but you could sense by his body language that he had everything under control, he was cool and very mature," Arzani said. "It couldn't have been easy for him but he doesn't seem over-burdened by the attention at all, He's not adventurous with the English language as Rafa (Nadal) is, he's a little limited but that will improve as he grows more comfortable with his situation."
Watch out for this young Japanese. He's going to be a real star.