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IMG Academy trainee Kei Nishikori becomes first Japanese man to win Japan Open

IMG Academy's Kei Nishikori poses with the winner's trophy after beating Milos Raonic in the Japan Open final

After knocking off the No.2 seed, Tomas Berdych, on Friday to reach the semi-finals, No. 8 seed Nishikori has stunned the tennis world once again with his victory over Milos Raonic at the Japan Open. The 22-year-old was overwhelmed by the win in his home country. “AMAZING feeling to win here in Tokyo,” he exclaimed on Facebook. Nishikori was surrounded by friends, family, and his tennis coach, Dante Bottini, of the IMG Academy Bollettieri Tennis program.

The victory marks Nishikori’s second career title after winning in Delray Beach several years ago. With the win, Nishikori will move from No. 17 in the world to No. 15.

Nishikori began his training at the world-renowned IMG Academy eight years ago. He was one of the first promising young talent selected by the [Masaaki] Morita Tennis Fund to develop in the U.S. with an emphasis on both skill development and English language and cultural education. Mr. Masaaki Morita, former CEO of the Sony Corporation, created the tennis fund to further Japanese tennis with these elements in mind.

Remarked legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri (who was instrumental in the formation of the Morita Tennis Fund) of Nishikori’s success, last year: “This did not come overnight. It was a process that took place over [eight] years since Kei first came to us at the age of 14. Beyond his tennis development, Kei adjusted to cultural changes, including learning to speak English. He’s a testament to how a little adversity is necessary to enable development as an athlete and a person.”

Nishikori’s success and the continued commitment of the Morita Tennis Fund have led to a surge of athletic talent out of Japan. IMG Academy is now home to half a dozen Japanese tennis players and countless other Japanese athletes training in other sports. Of the current contingent of tennis student-athletes, rising star Yoshihito Nishioka is leaving one giant impression on the junior circuit this season. The 17-year-old, who like his countryman Nishikori, came to IMG Academy when he was 14, recently turned professional, and has already risen 106 spots in the rankings to 687th in the world. Nishioka qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open Juniors tournament this summer and advanced all the way to the semi-finals. Most recently, he advanced to the finals of the Mexico F11 Futures $10k tournament.

Both Nishioka and the elder Nishikori take full advantage of the resources at IMG Academy, which not only prepare them from a skill perspective, but also from a conditioning one. Remarked Nishikori last year after advancing to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, “IMG [Academy] provides me a place where I can concentrate solely on my tennis and conditioning. I am surrounded by great coaches in an environment where I can eat, sleep and train. It’s a situation many of us do not often have the opportunity to be in.”

In a recent interview after his U.S. Open appearance, Nishioka noted how IMG Academy’s resources elevates his game saying, “If I practiced in Japan, I can’t play against the big, huge players with the big forehand. You just can’t practice that at home… So it’s good for me in practice. The [Athletic and Personal Development], too, because it has a big gym with everything I need. So it’s good for me on- and off-the-court.”

For Nishikori, it’s an opportunity he has taken full advantage of, and one that looks to have set him on a trailblazing path. Based on the early returns, his countryman Nishioka may not be far behind on that trail.

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