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Nishioka Wins the Nielsen Pro Tennis Championships

• The 26th Nielsen Pro Tennis Championships took place at the AC Nielsen Tennis Center in Winnetka, Illinois from July 5 to 9. Two Japanese professional players, top seed Yoshihito Nishioka and 5 seed Go Soeda, participated in the tournament for the first time in seven years.
• Both Nishioka and Soeda advanced to the semifinal and faced each other. The game started in the heat at 2:30 p.m. on July 8, and Nishioka beat Soeda by 6-2, 6-4.

• The final was held in the evening of July 9, and Nishioka faced 8 seed Francis Tiafoe. The game started with intense rallies, and Nishioka was broken in the first game; however, he rallied back in the second game. The two players continued to hit fierce strokes, and Nishioka never pulled back his shots even he faced an advantage out. His stable strokes induced Tiahoe’s mistakes, and he beat Tiahoe by 6-3, 6-2. Nishioka won $50,000 of the prize money.

• Nishioka responded to Shimpo’s interview and said, “Tiafoe was a very aggressive player, so I was a little nervous at the beginning, and my strokes weren’t deep enough. So it was a tough start, but while I was keeping my pace, he began to make mistakes. I think that one of the reasons for today’s victory was my persistence that was stronger than his.” He also said, “The final was the first evening game for me in Winnetka, so the temperature was lower, and it influenced the string tension which made it difficult to hit the balls to where I intended. Anyway, I gradually got accustomed to playing in the circumstance and was able to have a good finish.”

• Tiafoe spoke to the audience, “I knew that he had big services and big forehands, so I just cared about that but my forehands were a little bit shorter, so he hit big shots.”

• The Nielsen Pro Tennis Championships has offered challengers an opportunity to reach the Top 100 on the ATP World Tour and lead them to the US Open. The tournament also has a history of giving wildcards and entries to young players. For instance, Pete Sampras received his first wildcard at the Championship. Other American players, who have been to the tournament at the start of their careers, include Tom Martin, Patrick McEnroe, James Blake, and more.

Interview with Go Soeda

Go Soeda, who represented Japan in the 2012 London Olympics, played all of the Grand Slam tournaments last year. His personal best ATP world ranking is 47th in singles. This year, he failed to qualify for three Grand Slams. (This interview took place on July 2 before the Nielsen Championship games began.)

Q: How’s your condition this year?

Soeda: Not too bad – these things depend a lot on luck. So far this year things haven’t gone the way they should, but I’m getting there.

Q: What brought you back to the Nielsen Championships after the seven-year absence?

Soeda: No particular reason. I just wanted to play more games. More games, more chances to win.

Q: How different are the games in these championships from the Grand Slams?

Soeda: The participating players are not different, so the skill level is the same for both. At the Grand Slams, the tension is higher, I think.

Q: How do you maintain your focus?

Soeda: I try to maintain the rhythm in the daily routine, particularly for eating and sleeping. Before a big game, I take care not to succumb to the pre-game nervousness.

Q: I understand you love Japanese food?

Soeda: I prefer eating rice, so it can be Japanese or Chinese. Yesterday I had rice at a Mexican restaurant.

Q: What’s your strategy for this game?

Soeda: No big strategies. The main thing is how focused I will be, so more than anything else, I want to stay focused no matter what.

Q: How about in the game?

Soeda: In addition to going forward at every chance, I’ll try to be patient and make the opponent move if there’s no opportunity to be close to the net. Where I can’t win with power, I’ll try to win with patience.

Q: Do you have enough time to practice here?

Soeda: Not as much as when I’m in Japan. But I still have 2-3 hours to practice, so I must make best use of those hours.

Q: What do you think about the fact that there are more European tennis players than those from other areas?

Soeda: I guess in Europe more people play tennis, and among them they play each other to improve their skill level. But recently, we are seeing several more young, strong, players from the U.S. and Australia.

Q: You recorded 222 km per hour in your serve last year?

Soeda: Well, most players can serve at the speed more than 200 km. In my case, I value control rather than speed – control and certainty in serve. So speed is not that important to me. The point in serve is to use your entire body; you can’t hit a fast ball with your arm only.

Q: It must be exhausting to travel from game to game all the time.

Soeda: Yes, with jet lag, long travel time and all. But I’ve been doing this more than 10 years now so I’m used to it.

Q: Where will you play next?

Soeda: In Granby, Canada. The game is about the same scale as Nielsen, and the same players will play.

Q: You started tennis at the age of four. Is it critical to begin early?

Soeda: Yes, I think it is. [If you start] in your early teens you may still have a chance [to succeed], but again, most of the players I’ve met started tennis when they were very young.

Q: Any advice to children who are playing tennis?

Soeda: It’s important to continue whatever you started, whether it’s your study, tennis, or any other sport. Have a goal to pursue and I believe you’ll gain something. As a professional, I’ve decided to sacrifice every pleasure in life for tennis, and yet [with such an extreme determination] the bottom line is whether you can follow through.

Q: Thank you very much

Yoshihito Nishioka (L) and Go Soeda

Nishioka smiles with the Championship Cup.

Go Soeda