Tennis is a bit of a strange sport in this country. So many people say they play it and courts always being booked up seems to prove that. Many of my students profess to being interested in the game yet when Britain’s Andy Murray won the Olympic Gold in 2012 and the Wimbledon title a few months ago, not a soul mentioned it! Maybe thats because, back in the Olympics, NHK were showing the Japanese synchronised swimming team finish about 7th instead of seeing two of the worlds best tennis players battling it out for the gold medal as was happening in most countries around the world.
When I have mentioned Murray to the locals in the past all I’ve got is blank faces! However, they all know Kei Nishikori which is fairly understandable as he’s the number one Japanese player in the men’s game. As far as I’m aware he’s never made it past the quarter finals of a major tournament but he did win the Rakuten Japan Open last year. That mens-only tournament follows on from the Toray Pan Pacific Open ladies one which brings me nicely (and finally) on to today’s events.
I didn’t have any real plans to even bother with this years finals once Serena Williams had pulled out and Britain’s Laura Robson was knocked out early on but once the semi-finals had been decided I thought it a pretty strong line-up featuring Venus Williams as well as 4th, 5th and 7th seeds; Caroline Wozniaki, Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitová respectively.
Ready for a 1pm start I arrived at the stadium fifteen minutes before that and was interviewed by Nihon TV for a few minutes. They wanted to catch my reaction to some footage they showed me from earlier in the week featuring veteran local heroine Kimiko Date-Krumm. No doubt it all ended up on the cutting room floor because I don’t think I reacted at all and had to actually ask them what it was I was supposed to be reacting too other than a slightly above-average rally. I was told that the Japanese player was not too happy with the crowds reaction to something or another and I was then asked how I usually react to such rallies. I suppose it might have made it on to TV just so a load of Japanese can sit around over-reacting (as they usually do!) to an underwhelming reaction by a white guy!
I’d love to see whether the $2,369,000 prize money ($426,000 for the champion) on offer at this tournament is recovered in any way given the fairly poor crowds for this tournament. While it seemed a little busier than my previous visits in 2010 and 2012 it was still no more than 40% full……at best!
Within minutes of taking my seat (of course not my real 3000 yen seat high up in the stadium but a block further down!) I was most shocked to see a load of doubles players come out. I was thinking that, compared to previous years, they must have switched the order of play round with the doubles games first followed by the singles. I really don’t like watching doubles and so was thinking I may as well have stayed home for a few more hours. In a way it would make sense to switch them as it would mean more people seeing the semi’s either at the stadium or on TV once they’d finished work. It would also be slightly better for American and European TV companies should they wish to show the tournament which I, and only I, call the “fifth grand slam of the year!!”
Anyway, once the first doubles match had concluded I went about finding the order of play and was relieved to see that it was the singles matches up next albeit with an hour wait till 3.30pm. First on court was the former number one Venus Williams against Petra Kvitová; the 2011 Wimbledon champion. Seven times grand slam winner Williams started very well winning the first set 6-3 but Kvitová fought back to win the second 6-3 and the tie was decided by a tie-breaker (unlike in grand slams) with the Czech Kvitová winning that with relative ease.
The second semi followed on pretty soon afterwards and was a much better tennis match with both Caroline Wozniaki of Denmark and Germany’s Angelique Kerber both putting in some pretty powerful backhand and forehand shots as well as less grunting. Mind you, it took the former a while to get into the swing of things as Kerber raced into an early 5-1 lead before finally taking the first set 6-4. Despite that though, the momentum seemed to have swung in favour of Wozniaki but she could never break Kerber’s serve enough to make the second set count and it too was decided in a tie-break which I was very grateful for as I was starving and wanted to get home.
So the reigning champion Kvitová plays Kerber in the final at Ariake Colosseum tomorrow and based on their displays today I would fancy the German to just shade it.