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Fitness proving a continuing challenge for Nishikori

by Jack Gallagher

Kei Nishikori finally broke through against Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of last week’s Rogers Cup in Montreal. Nishikori routed the 14-time Grand Slam champion 6-2, 6-4 with an overpowering show to record his first win over Nadal in eight career meetings.

The joy was shortlived, however, as Nishikori lost to Andy Murray 6-3, 6-0 in the semifinals the following day while complaining of general fatigue. The world No. 4 then pulled out of this week’s Western and Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, and won’t play again until the U.S. Open.

“Regarding Kei’s fitness, he is not injured,” wrote Nishikori’s agent Olivier van Lindonk in an email to Notes on a Scorecard earlier this week. “His body just was very fatigued after two good weeks. We decided to take Cincy off and focus on the U.S. Open next.

“The entire team arrived in Bradenton, Florida, tonight and we will start working to get him rested and fit for the last Grand Slam of the year.”

With Nishikori having proven that he can go toe-to-toe with the game’s best, it appears that his own fitness is proving to be his biggest challenge now. After pulling out of Wimbledon before his second-round match this summer with a strained calf, the Shimane native bounced back by winning the Citi Open earlier this month in impressive fashion.

On the way to beating American John Isner in the final, Nishikori avenged his defeat at last year’s U.S. Open to Croatia’s Marin Cilic in the semifinals.

If Nishikori is to make it back again to the final of the last Grand Slam of the season, he will have to endure six tough matches against quality opponents in the humidity of New York to get there.

Nishikori has both the skill and the mental toughness to repeat last summer’s feat, but the primary question is whether his body will hold up on the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

Positive development: It’s great to see NHK’s BS-1 satellite channel televising Nishikori’s matches live now. I think it is something that has been long overdue.

If they can show the entire baseball game of a team with two Japanese relief pitchers (the Boston Red Sox), surely they can broadcast the matches of the highest-ranked male Japanese tennis player ever.

It would be nice if NHK included the bilingual commentary for its foreign listeners on Nishikori’s matches. It’s good to have Japanese analysis from the studio in Tokyo, but if the MLB fans can listen in English, there should be no reason why tennis supporters can’t as well.

Crass act: That is the only way to describe the behavior of Australian Nick Kyrgios during his second-round match with Stan Wawrinka last week at the Rogers Cup. Kyrgios made a nasty comment about Wawrinka’s girlfriend that has no place in sport.

Kyrgios is lucky Wawrinka is a gentleman, because he deserved to be thrashed for what he said. The ATP fined the 20-year-old Kyrgios $12,500 for his comment, which amounts to almost nothing. If the ATP had guts, it would suspend him for the rest of the season.

I look at the current generation, with the tattoos, body piercings and multicolored hair, and say to myself, “That’s just the way it is today.”

The problem is when a poser like Kyrgios acts out and the world finds out about it. It sets a bad example for all young people.

Contrast a guy like Kyrgios with somebody like Nishikori, who exudes nothing but class in both victory and defeat and you can see why older generations can only shake their heads.

Kyrgios is lucky he didn’t grow up in my neighborhood. Back in the day if somebody said something like that, their opponent would have put down their racket, walked around the net and pounded the guy into submission.

Kyrgios is cruising for a bruising. If he keeps this behavior up, it won’t be long until he gets it.

Reality check: I have mixed emotions about seeing Sebastian Coe elected as the new head of the IAAF, the world governing body for athletics.

On the one hand, it’s great to see such an important body being led by a legend like Coe. On the other, his recent comments indicating that there was not much of a doping problem in the sport smacked of total ignorance.

This reminds me of commissioner Bud Selig’s attitude toward performance-enhancing drugs in MLB. He ignored the issue for so long before finally taking some action. The fans and media were hoodwinked into thinking they were witnessing some golden era in the sport, while much of it was chemically induced.

Does anybody really believe that MLB’s all-time home run record really belongs to Barry Bonds?

I think not.

Hank Aaron’s 755 remains the standard and everybody knows it.

Homers in a single season?

Bonds hit 73 back in 2001, but everybody knows what the deal was.

The 61 blasts by Roger Maris in 1961 is still the magic mark. Interesting to note that it hasn’t been seriously challenged since the MLB’s crackdown on PEDs began.

Proof in numbers: Ichiro Suzuki is slowly inching toward 3,000 hits in the major leagues. He won’t do it this season, but if he is more than a pinch hitter in 2016 should reach the plateau. He is a lock for the Hall of Fame in any event as an all-time great.

Several years ago I wrote a column saying that Ichiro was nowhere near the player that Pete Rose was. I stand by that assertion to this day.

Ichiro is 41 now and batting .260 for the lowly Miami Marlins. Now five seasons removed from his last All-Star appearance (2010), he has 75 hits this season. Not bad numbers at his age.

Now let’s take a look at Rose’s statistics at the same age back in 1982. The legend played in all 162 games for the Philadelphia Phillies and started at first base in the All-Star Game. Rose batted .271 and rapped out 172 hits.

The next season the 42-year-old Rose, who was known for his leadership as a player, led the Phillies to the World Series against Baltimore. Though the Orioles won the series in five games, Rose hit .313 in a losing effort. It was the second-highest batting average he posted in the six World Series he played in.