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Injury just latest obstacle for Eddie Herr hopeful

Junior tennis players from all over the world have descended upon IMG Academy for the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Tournament
Junior tennis players from all over the world have descended upon IMG Academy for the Eddie Herr International Junior Tennis Tournament

MANATEE -- Yoshihito Nishioka has been overcoming obstacles since he decided to take up the game of tennis.

He doesn’t fit the tall, powerful prototype that some like to see in top players.

But Nishioka does one thing better than most.

He knows how to win.

And quickness is his great equalizer.

Nishioka can also tolerate pain, which was what got him through his match Wednesday at the Eddie Herr International Tennis Championships at the IMG Academy.

A 12th seed in the 18-year-old and Under Division, the 16-year-old fought off a nagging left shoulder injury to earn a 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 over Fedor Baev from Norway.

“There was a lot of pain. It hurt a lot and affected what I can do, but I wasn’t going to quit. I couldn’t play last year, and I am not going to sit out again,” Nishioka said. “I can’t hit the ball as hard as I want to and it hurts on my backhand. I had to change my style and just tried to make him miss.”

Most people would figure Nishioka, who stands only about 5-foot-7 at best, is already at a disadvantage because he doesn’t have a big power game and can’t tower over opponents. But he makes up for that with cunning and a knack for covering the court with his speed and athleticism.

“I think I injured my shoulder from playing too much, but I don’t want to stop. I love the game and I am playing really well now. I want to win this tournament,” Nishioka said. “I don’t think the injury will get worse. I am not worried so I am going to keep playing. It’s very important to me to win this tournament.

“I cannot overpower people so I have to use my head. I usually play people bigger than me anyway, and I have to outsmart them. I am happy with how I played today. I did good today despite how my shoulder felt.”

Nishioka had to stop playing tennis for about six months last year because of a back injury and missed the Eddie Herr tournament. He started playing again in January and, after working his way back into shape, is playing some of his best tennis.

“He is a tough kid. He is playing a lot more because he has been winning and did well in some futures events,” IMG tennis instructor Glen Weiner said. “He is very strong mentally, which enables him to beat taller opponents. Yoshi doesn’t give up a lot of points because of lack of concentration. His speed helps him take advantage of a lot of situations. You break his serve and don’t concentrate and on your next game you will lose your serve.”

Nishioka first starting playing tennis back in his native Japan when he was 4 years old at the urging of his father. He jetted up the ranks and came to IMG Academy two years ago through the Morita Foundation.

He has built a good relationship with the other Japanese tennis players at IMG, including Kei Nishikori, who has become somewhat of a trailblazer for Japanese players there.

Nishioka has found success recently in the futures tournaments making it through four rounds of qualifiers to make the main draw in Austin, Texas, and to the finals in Birmingham, Ala.

An intense worker, some of Nishioka’s injuries of late have been arguably due to too much practice, but he can’t stay away from the game.

“It’s hard for me to rest. I want to play,” Nishioka said. “To go six months without playing was very difficult. I was mad. I just wanted to be out there. It’s one reason I am not going to pull out of this tournament.”

Weiner said Nishioka’s resiliency has showed itself in his victory over Baev.

“It’s hard to play when you are injured because injuries can affect your physical and mental game and concentration,” Weiner said. “When you are hurting you can’t always execute the way you want and when you are not executing that is another thing that upsets you and then maybe you are not focused as much. But Yoshi played well today. He is a tough kid and has a great return game.”

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