Despite a disappointing loss for Kei Nishikori in the U.S. Open final Tuesday in New York, Japanese fans rallied behind the young tennis star, saying that his improbable run to the final will be a valuable experience for him.

Nishikori’s loss “was of course disappointing, but I think he himself feels more disappointed than anyone else. I could see that from his face,” said Takao Ono, a 25-year-old man working at a broadcasting firm who watched the match in Tokyo’s Roppongi district. “I think this (match) will definitely lead to his next step.”

Nishikori, 24, became the first Japanese man to compete in a Grand Slam final, but he lost to 25-year-old Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

“I couldn’t believe that a Japanese man was playing in a Grand Slam final . . . it was like a dream,” said Yoshihiro Omata, a 31-year-old man from Setagaya Ward, Tokyo.

Omata said Cilic played so well that Nishikori seemed unable to play the way he wanted to, adding that the Japanese star appeared a bit nervous, while Cilic was relaxed from the beginning.

Still, Omata said he thinks Nishikori will get another shot.

“He’s got a lot of strong rivals around his age, but I want him to come back to a Grand Slam final again. Well, I actually think he will,” he said.

Despite the early morning match — which started at 6 a.m. in Japan — more than 200 people showed up for a Japan Tennis Association-hosted viewing event in Roppongi.

As the match began, the audience was on edge, applauding when Nishikori scored and then becoming visibly frustrated when Cilic began to gain the upper hand.

But after Cilic’s victory was sealed, the crowd — despite numerous disappointed faces — offered a hearty round of applause for both players.

Despite the lopsided loss, many admired Nishikori’s fighting spirit.

“As a Japanese, he is smaller than many other Western rivals and that alone is a major obstacle,” said 67-year-old business consultant Masatoshi Hinoshita, who watched at a Tokyo bar. “And yet, Nishikori went overseas alone to compete against those big guys. His challenge simply makes us want to be his cheerleaders.”

In Nishikori’s hometown of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, more than 800 fans packed into a convention hall to cheer on their hero at a standing-room-only public viewing event. So many showed up that organizers had to turn people away once the match started.

As with the rest of Japan, Matsue — a quiet city of just over 200,000 — was captivated by Nishikori’s success. The crowds for the public viewing events grew in size with each win.

But the convention hall fell silent when Nishikori lost the final game of the second set to give Cilic a 6-3, 6-3 lead. With Nishikori trailing 6-3, 6-3, 3-1, the crowd started to thin as people headed for the exits with plenty of time to be at their desks for the start of the workday.

Still, residents said the buzz created by Nishikori’s run was good for local business.

“I hope it has brought some attention to the region,” said office worker Haruyuki Okada. “We are a long way from Tokyo so people tend to forget us here.”

Nishikori’s first coach, Masaki Kashiwai, watched along with the other locals at the Matsue convention hall.

“Cilic rode the momentum of beating (Roger) Federer and was unstoppable,” Kashiwai said. “I thought there for a second in the third set that Kei had a comeback in him, but it wasn’t to be. Still, he did a great job to reach the final and this is just the beginning for him.”

Information from AP added

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