Japanese companies riding high on Nishikori’s success


Staff Writer

After Kei Nishikori became the first Asian male to advance to a Grand Slam final on Saturday in New York, enterprises ranging from satellite broadcaster Wowow Inc. to apparel brand Uniqlo rejoiced at what they happily described as an “unprecedented” surge in subscriptions and sales of related merchandise.

As the 24-year-old Nishikori continued to advance in the U.S. Open championships, the broadcaster has experienced a spike in subscriptions at a pace like never before, spokeswoman Aya Matake said Monday.

The number of inquiries from possible subscribers over the past week is about 10 times higher than that of preceding years, she said, accelerated by Nishikori’s surprising defeat on Sept. 2nd of fifth-seeded Milos Raonic that made him the first Japanese male in 92 years to reach a U.S. Open quarterfinal.

Until Saturday’s match, in which Nishikori beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Wowow had the sole Japan broadcast rights for this year’s tournament. Although details have yet to be finalized, Wowow could be the only broadcaster to air the final, slated to start early Tuesday morning Tokyo time, Matake said.

“The tennis matches are unpredictable in terms of how long they could last, sometimes continuing as long as four hours. So the way I see it, regular broadcasters usually find the sport a difficult genre and shy away from it,” she said.

Since its launch in 1991, Wowow has boasted extensive coverage of the sport, broadcasting Grand Slam tournaments live every year — except for the Wimbledon championships, which it began to air in 2008. Given its long history of covering the sport, “We’re very happy to see (Nishikori’s) rapid rise to a global player capable of advancing to a Grand Slam final,” she said.

Wowow is far from alone in savoring Nishikori’s historic performance.

Retailer Uniqlo says the same style of polo shirts worn by Nishikori during the U.S. tournament this year are selling like mad, outpacing demand. Such is the craze that the shirts, which went on sale Aug. 25, were all but sold out by Sunday both at the retailer’s physical and online shops, a Uniqlo spokeswoman said.

“The demand is definitely bigger than we’ve ever experienced,” she said.

And the same tennis racket that Nishikori uses, produced by U.S.-based sports equipment manufacturer Wilson, is enjoying brisk sales as well.

Lafino, a chain of tennis equipment shops in Chiba Prefecture, has seen a rapid rise in sales of the same type of racket, said its president, Shinichi Aida.

The shop had about 15 of them in stock before the U.S. Open, but now, after demand shot up this weekend, they are all gone. And the Adidas shoes that Nishikori wears, which rarely came under the spotlight, are suddenly in demand, too, he said.