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Nishikori impressive in loss; Kotoshogiku’s challenge

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Despite a valiant effort from Kei Nishikori, Japan lost to Britain 3-1 in their Davis Cup World Group first-round tie in Birmingham, England, on Sunday.

With Japan trailing 2-1 entering the reverse singles on the final day, Nishikori needed to beat Andy Murray and then Taro Daniel had to dispatch Dan Evans for the Hinomaru to prevail. The scenario was realistic, as Daniel is ranked much higher (87th) than Evans (157th) on the ATP Tour.

Nishikori, the world No. 6, displayed incredible fortitude in forcing his match with Murray to a decisive fifth set before losing 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 4-6, 6-3 in a 4-hour, 54-minute epic. The second set tiebreaker proved pivotal, with Murray taking a 4-0 lead before Nishikori responded with five straight points before falling.

Nishikori expected the second-ranked Murray, who has been on a great run the past 12 months, to battle hard after dropping two sets in a row.

“I knew he would come back. He always acts like that,” the Davis Cup website quoted Nishikori as saying. “I was ready to fight again in the fifth set. I was fine body-wise and he was not going to give up in such an important match. I tried to focus but he was a better player in the fifth set.”

Though the defeat was a disappointment, it was not unexpected, as beating Murray and Britain in the U.K. was always going to be a difficult task. I think Japan can build on this result going forward.

Tough act to follow: Ozeki Kotoshogiku will try to win his second straight Grand Sumo title when the Spring Basho begins on Sunday in Osaka. The yokozuna hopeful ended a 10-year string of futility by Japanese rikishi when he captured the New Year Basho in January.

Sumo fans will soon find out if the victory by the Fukuoka native was an anomaly or the beginnings of a new star. With yokozuna Hakuho still looming large on the scene, and Kotoshogiku already 32, it will be a tall task for the ozeki to come out on top again and establish a new order in the ancient sport.

Noteworthy: It was nice to see the recognition garnered by female teen jockey Nanako Fujita following her debut last week. She achieved her childhood dream and became the first female Japan Racing Association jockey in 16 years in the process when she took the reins at Kawasaki Racecourse.

Time has taught us how difficult it can be for women to excel in this male-dominated society. This is why Fujita’s tale is a good story and will hopefully inspire young girls to reach for the stars both in sports and other endeavors.

Getting repetitious: Am I the only one who is starting to tire of the way the media keeps blowing up everything ski jumper Noriaki Kasai does?

I wonder.

Last week the 43-year-old Hokkaido native achieved his third podium finish of the season in an event in Trondheim, Norway. That’s all fine and well, but every time I hear Kasai’s name I wonder if some younger jumper isn’t missing out on developing because of him.

It never ceases to amaze me how long certain athletes in Japan are allowed to hang on, even at the expense of others. Chunichi Dragons pitcher Masahiro Yamamoto is a prime example. Last season he finally decided to retire — at the age of 50.

Good grief.

In the last six seasons he played, Yamamoto won a grand total of 15 games. During that same time period he started 47 games. That means 47 starts that could have gone to a younger player.

Interesting take: I had to laugh when I saw Texas Rangers star Yu Darvish criticizing Japanese media and fans who bashed former NPB star Kazuhiro Kiyohara for his recent arrest for drug use.

“What has happened is not good but everybody makes mistakes,” Kyodo News quoted Darvish as saying at spring training in Arizona last month. “Just ripping into him (Kiyohara) doesn’t solve anything.

“In the United States, players like that are given a second chance and Japan has to become a place where you get a second chance in society too.

“If (Kiyohara) came back through rehabilitation and won the championship as a manager (in pro baseball) then I think Japan would change.”

If somebody like Sadaharu Oh or Shigeo Nagashima had said this, it might have had some merit. Darvish, however, seems like the last person who should be dispensing social advice to others.

Tempest in a teapot: The arrest and suspension of Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Yamaico Navarro last month after two bullets were found in his shoulder bag in Okinawa.

Navarro, who hails from the Dominican Republic, had not realized the bullets were in his bag when he departed for Japan in January. The Marines fined Navarro ¥500,000 and suspended him for the first four weeks of the season for the oversight.

This incident was obviously an embarrassment for the Marines, but does the punishment really fit the crime?

I think not.