Nishikori loses golden opportunity for glory in Paris

by Jack Gallagher

His draw at the French Open seemed almost tailor-made.

He seemed to have a fairly clear path to the final, likely to face players he had beaten recently in the later rounds, while big guns Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray battled it out in the other bracket.

But it didn’t work out that way for Kei Nishikori at Roland Garros.

Nishikori, the fifth seed, lost a five-set match to 14th seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Tuesday. It wasn’t so much that Nishikori lost, but the way he did it.

After making the quarterfinals via a walkover in the fourth round, Nishikori made history again by becoming the first Japanese man in the quarters at the French Open in more than 80 years.

He went into the contest holding a 4-1 lifetime mark against Tsonga. I actually covered that one defeat — a loss to the Frenchman in the third round of the Shanghai Masters back in 2013.

But right from the jump I sensed something wasn’t right on the red clay. Nishikori was broken three times in the opening set by Tsonga, something that was hard to even fathom.

To his credit Nishikori battled back from a 2-0 deficit to force a deciding set, where he still holds the highest winning percentage in the history of the Open era, but even that didn’t factor in this time.

I kept thinking going into the French Open that even if he made the final and lost to world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, it would still be a boost for Nishikori’s confidence to have made the final of two of the last three Grand Slams.

It just wasn’t in the cards.

With the likes of two-time French Open champion Jim Courier saying on Tennis Channel, “I believe Kei Nishikori will be a Grand Slam champion sometime soon,” the world No. 5 had many backers.

Tsonga played a fine match in front of the home crowd, but I couldn’t help come away thinking that he had not won, but rather Nishikori had lost.

In a Facebook posting on Wednesday, Nishikori admitted that the defeat had been hard to accept.

“Tough day yesterday. Never easy to lose like that,” the Shimane native wrote. “I will learn from this and improve for the future. . .”

The likelihood is that Nishikori is going to have to do it the hard way the next time at a Grand Slam, going through much tougher opponents to get to a final — like he did at the U.S. Open last summer.

Perhaps the greater the challenge, the better he responds.

It’s not all bad news for Nishikori , however, as he debuted his own social media channel this week.

I’m not sure what to say about this whole FIFA mess.

Is anybody actually surprised by all of the corruption that is coming to the surface?

What I find most troubling is that FIFA president Sepp Blatter was re-elected by an overwhelming margin just last week, when it was clear that the organization was heading for real trouble.

That said more to me about the federations than Blatter.

Did these folks really think that retaining Blatter was the way forward?

Or were they just trying to protect their own interests?

The answer is no doubt the latter.

You can bet this is just the tip of the iceberg and that more damaging revelations will be forthcoming.

It is just so very sad that a great sport like soccer has to suffer the indignity of the secret society that has been running roughshod over it for decades.

I don’t envy the task facing Blatter’s successor.

I wonder how much longer NPB is going to be able to contain Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei Otani.

He is 7-0 this season and struck out 13 in his last outing against the Chunichi Dragons last week in Sapporo. His ERA now is 1.75 and he has struck out 69 batters in 56⅔ innings.

At least one MLB executive believes Otani made the wrong choice when he reneged on his promise to go straight from high school to MLB.

“He was stupid for having stayed in Japan,” the executive told a sports writer last summer. “He could be starting for the Yankees and making $6.7 million a year.”

Otani, who will turn 21 next month, is clearly a big fish in a small pond up in Hokkaido. But you wonder how long he is going to be content with that.

Now in his third year with the Fighters, Otani is earning ¥100 million this season. At the current exchange rate, that would equate to approximately $750,000, or nine times less than what he could be making playing for the Yankees.