Kei Nishikori reaches U.S. Open final, beating Novak Djokovic and becoming the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam final.

Kei Nishikori of Japan won in four sets on Saturday at the U.S. Open.

As Kei Nishikori has kept fighting through imposing obstacles at this United States Open, his coach Michael Chang has kept reminding him, “Great effort, but the tournament is not over yet.”

It certainly is not. After fighting his way through consecutive five-set matches to earn a semifinal spot against No. 1-seeded Novak Djokovic, Nishikori extended his one-man show of resilience by upsetting Djokovic to reach the final.

His remarkable 6-4, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3 victory on Saturday made him the first man from Asia to reach a Grand Slam singles final.

It’s, I don’t know, 4 o’clock in the morning,” Nishikori, 24, said of the time in his native Japan. “But I hope a lot of people are watching.”

If they were not on Saturday, they will be soon. Nishikori, who left home at age 14 to train at the IMG Academy in Bradenton Fla., was a star in his homeland. His run here and his victory over Djokovic will take him to a new level.

I was a little bit tight,” Nishikori said, “especially it was my first semifinal in a Grand Slam, but it’s just amazing, amazing feeling beating the No. 1 player.”

In Monday’s final, Nishikori will face the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal between No. 2-seeded Roger Federer and No. 14 Marin Cilic.

The 10th-seeded Nishikori is the lowest seed to reach the final of the United States Open since Pete Sampras, who was seeded 17th when he won the title in 2002 in what turned out to be his final professional match. But Nishikori is just getting started and might well have made this kind of breakthrough earlier if not for a series of injuries, including a serious right elbow problem that required surgery in 2009 and knocked him far out of the top 100.

He has long been considered a great talent by people who have seen plenty of great talent, including Nick Bollettieri, the veteran American coach who is the instructor emeritus at the academy in Bradenton that once bore his name.

He and Xavier Malisse and Marcelo Rios are the best shotmakers I’ve ever worked with,” Bollettieri said in an interview before this season. “If Kei Nishikori could stay healthy, he could be and would be right up with the big boys.

Eight months later, there he was in Arthur Ashe Stadium beating the top-ranked player in the world. Nishikori had played Djokovic twice before; losing in the second round of the French Open in straight sets in 2010, and upsetting him in 2011 near the end of Djokovic’s finest season in the semifinals of the indoor tournament in Basel, Switzerland.

But this was certainly a much grander stage than Basel, and what made his victory all the more remarkable was that Nishikori had spent nearly three and a half hours longer on court in this tournament than Djokovic coming into this semifinal.

Nishikori needed five sets and more than four hours to beat fifth-seeded Milos Raonic in a fourth round that ended at 2:26 a.m. Tuesday. He did not get to bed until close to 6 that morning but then bounced back on Wednesday to upset third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, the reigning Australian Open champion, in five sets.

Before he played Stan, I was more concerned that he would still be focusing on the Raonic match,” Chang said. “So I was like constantly telling him, ‘Hey you’ve got another match here to play, another match, another match.’ Because that tends to be the struggle with players that have a big win and then a letdown following that.”

Chang, the American who shocked the tennis world to win the 1989 French Open at age 17, began coaching Nishikori this season, joining a team that included his coach Dante Bottini and the fitness trainer Hiroto Kon.

He’s been helping me a lot,” Nishikori said of Chang. “Him and Dante communicating a lot, and it’s been working super well, so that’s why I’m here.”

Reebok Instapump Fury “Michael Chang”

Image of Reebok Instapump Fury "Michael Chang"

Paying tribute to tennis great Michael Chang, Reebok unveils an Instapump Fury dedicated to his name. Featuring a blend of signature retro colors previously highlighted on the Court Victory Pump, a white mesh upper adorns the silhouette while highlighter yellow and turquoise splash the vamp, back heel and midsole. A staple on the laceless model, the renowned Reebok pump inflation system along the tongue finishes the aesthetic.

Look for the Reebok Instapump Fury “Michael Chang” to be available at select Reebok accounts worldwide.


Top 10 Asian American athletes in 2013

The year 2013 was another one for Asian American athletes. Last year was all about Linsanity, as Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere to be the toast of the NBA. This year, Lin was not as big, although a documentary about his life and road to stardom was released this year.

The year began with the confusing tale of former Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o. It was discovered that the linebacker, who was drafted by the San Diego Chargers, had a girlfriend he never met. And then it was discovered that the girlfriend did not exist. Te’o, who had a clean-cut image before this news broke, had to explain what happened and why he had a girlfriend he talked to but never actually saw in person. It was discovered that Te’o was a victim of online “catfishing,” which occurs when someone pretends to be someone they are not. It proved to be an embarrassing moment for Te’o and he spent the second half of 2013 staying out of the spotlight, which was probably a good thing.

Dennis Rodman made friends with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un. Yes, this actually happened. The former Chicago Bull made a trip to North Korea and hit it off with the leader of one of the Axes of Evil. The North Korean dictator is a fan of the NBA and Rodman, which may only hurt diplomatic relations between the countries.

Locally, Hishashi Iwakuma emerged as a star for the fledgling Seattle Mariners and was a finalist for the Cy Young Award in the American League. The award is given to the best pitcher in baseball.

The effort to bring professional basketball to Seattle was once again thwarted. Indian American Vivek Ranadive bought the Sacramento Kings in order to keep them in Sacramento, stopping its move to Seattle.

High School swimmer Edward Kim is a dominant force in the pool for Eastlake High School. Kim has won multiple state titles and back-to-back Class 4A Swimmer of the Meet awards.

Tegan, 11, and Taylan, 16, Yuasa are nationally ranked Judo practitioners in their respective age groups. Both brothers have won local and national competitions in their respective divisions.  Stay tuned to these guys in the next couple years — we may see them in the Olympics.

Honorable Mentions

Although we do not have them on this list, there are many Asian athletes that had great years. First, it would be wrong not to mention all of the great golfers this year. China’s Guan Tianlang played at the Masters in Augusta, Ga., at the age of 14. He was the youngest ever to compete at the event and even played a practice round with Tiger Woods.

Inbee Park was a dominant figure in women’s golf this year. In fact, five of the top 10 golfers in the world in women’s golf are Asian. Park is currently ranked the No. 1 golfer in the world. The 25-year-old won three straight major golf championships this year. Park leads the charge of great Asian golfers in the sport. There will be much more to come in 2014.

Li Na also had a great year in women’s tennis. Na was the runner-up in the 2013 Australian Open and made the semifinals of the U.S. Open, where she lost to the eventual champion Serena Williams.

10.  Kelli Suguro – A senior walk-on with the University of Washington softball team, Suguro was an All-Pac 12 honorable mention last year. Suguro helped the team make another run at the NCAA Women’s College World Series. She scored some notoriety with a great play last season that made ESPN’s Top Play of the Night — a nightly feature on the network’s SportsCenter.

9.  Tim Lincecum – The former University of Washington standout pitcher has been an annual mainstay on this list. He continues to be a valuable part of the San Francisco Giants pitching staff. The highlight for this season was pitching a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres on July 13th. For his work, he signed a two-year, $35 million contract with the Giants, which will keep him in San Francisco through 2015.

8. Kim Ng – Would the Mariners be better had the organization hired Ng? We couldn’t have done any worse. Ng, one of the finalists for the Mariners’ general manager position in 2008, is now a Senior Vice President of Baseball Operations for Major League Baseball. Prior to that, she had positions with the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees. Despite not getting the chance to be the first Asian American woman to be a top executive for a Major League Baseball team, Ng is still a trailblazer and role model in baseball.

7.  Peyton Siva – The former Franklin High School basketball star had a big year. He helped the Louisville Cardinals win the 2013 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. He was an Academic All-American and shortly after his graduation, he was drafted into the NBA by the Detroit Pistons. He also married his longtime girlfriend at Louisville’s home arena.

6.  Jeanette Lee (aka The Black Widow) – The longtime professional pool player was elected to the Hall of Fame of her sport. Given the nickname because she would “eat her opponents alive,” she dominated the billiard circuit, despite her physical ailments.

5.  Hines Ward – While some athletes fall out of shape and get a belly after retiring, Ward has remained active. He trained for the Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. Hines completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run in 13 hours, 8 minutes, and 15 seconds. Ward, who is half Korean, participated with help from his sponsor, Chocolate Milk.

4.  Jeremy Lin – Linsanity still lives. In fact, Lin has had a couple of outstanding games this season, which reminded everyone of two seasons ago. However, injuries have set Lin back this year. For those who missed the hype of “Linsanity,” a documentary, “Linsanity: The Movie,” detailing his journey from benchwarmer to toast-of-the-town, was in theatres this year. The film was shown at Sundance and the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in 2013. It should be available via DVD in 2014.

3.  Marques Tuiasosopo – The former University of Washington (UW) quarterback got his chance to coach the football team at the Fight Hunger Bowl on Dec. 27. The opportunity arose as former UW head coach Steve Sarkisian bolted for Southern California to take the vacated job at USC. According to news reports, new UW coach Chris Peterson offered Tuiasosopo the position of tight ends coach, but “Tui” has instead accepted an offer as tight ends coach for USC.

2.  Doug Baldwin – The Seattle Seahawks have had one of its best seasons in recent memory and dreams of a Super Bowl in 2014 are in the team’s grasp. Baldwin is one of the team’s unsung heroes. He is a clutch wide receiver and a favorite target of Russell Wilson on third downs. Currently, he leads the team in receiving yards and is tied for most touchdowns by a wide receiver. At a recent home game, Baldwin ran out of the Seahawks tunnel with the Filipino flag to bring awareness and support for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. Baldwin is part Filipino and has relatives in the Philippines.

1. Erik Spoelestra – You win an NBA Championship, and you make this list. You win back-to-back and you get the top spot. “Coach Spo,” as he’s known, led the Miami Heat to another NBA Championship. The Heat are the favorites this year to make it a “3peat.” Spoelestra, who is half Filipino, has made public service announcements on behalf of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

Spoelestra went to high school in Portland and played college basketball at the University of Portland. In 1989, he was named Freshman of the Year in the West Coast Conference.

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Top 10 Asian American athletes in 2013


Zheng Jie knocks Venus Williams out of U.S. Open

Zheng Jie,  a 30-year-old from China, went on to beat Venus Williams in a second-round match at the U.S. Open on Wednesday. Williams repeatedly battled back over three grueling hours before finally succumbing to Zheng Jie in a third set tie-break. Zheng took advantage of mistakes by Williams for a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (5) victory.

During her on-court interview, Zheng addressed the partisan crowd that was raucously pulling for Williams in Louis Armstrong Stadium: “First, I want to say, ‘Sorry, guys.'”

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Zheng Jie knocks Venus Williams out of U.S. Open



Tennis phenom Kei Nishikori: “Project 10”

23-year-old Kei Nishikori, the world’s No. 11 ranking male tennis player and highest ranked Japanese male tennis player, was drawn with a qualifier in the first round of the U.S. Open on Thursday. Having beaten the likes of Roger Fereder and Novak Djokovic in recent seasons, he enjoys almost rock star-like fame back in his home country.

Nishikori, who reached the third round a year ago, is seeded 11th at the season’s last Grand Slam competition starting Monday. He could face seventh seed Roger Federer in the last 16.

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Tennis phenom Kei Nishikori: “Project 10”

Kei Nishikori