"Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros": Following in Nishikori's footsteps
The 2017 "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines" event has kicked off in Japan. On the courts of Yokohama Athletics & Country Club, sixteen players (eight boys and eight girls) played each other for a chance to travel to Paris to compete in the final phase of the tournament, the winners of which will be awarded a wildcard for the Junior French Open.
This second edition of "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros, in partnership with Longines" in Japan, whose patron is Christel Takigawa, certainly lived up to expectations thanks to the victory by Hikaru Shiraishi over Ryuya Ata in the boys' draw (6/2 6/3). Hikaru Shiraishi, who is No.229 in the ITF Junior rankings and was only the seventh best player in the competition (out of eight participants), had already caused a stir by defeating much higher-ranked players on his route to the final. A baseline player who had not played on clay for 18 months, he immediately made himself at home on the surface. "I quickly felt very comfortable on clay. I like the long rallies, using slices and changing up the tempo."
Against No.153 Ryuya Ata in the final, Hikaru Shiraishi stood firm. "I was very focused right from the start of the match, I played some great volleys and my drop shots worked well." In order to book his place in the Junior draw at Roland-Garros, this relatively slight player knows what he has to do: "I know that if I want to beat foreign players, I'll have to work on my serve and my physique. I'm going to try to take inspiration from Kei Nishikori and vary my shots without being afraid of opponents that are better than me on paper."
Kei Nishikori and the red dirt
Nagata like Shimizu?
In the girls' tournament, whose final had to be postponed due to rain, Anri Nagata (16 yrs, No.78) triumphed over world No.150 Moyuka Uchijima. But things did not run completely smoothly for the highest-ranked player in the draw, who eked out a 6-4 6-7 6-4 win in this closely-fought match. Having just recovered from an abdominal muscle injury, the player from Nagoya could not believe her luck: "The final was postponed because of the rain, which was lucky for me. I had an extra day to rest and get some treatment from the physio." It initially looked like she would have an easy time of it in the final (leading 4-1 in the second set before losing the tie-break), but finally only managed to break serve at 4-4 in the final set, digging deep to pocket the last two games in a thrilling encounter.
Though she already has experience playing on clay after a month-long tour of South America with the Japanese team, this spring will be the first time that Nagata will play in Paris. She will try to follow in the footsteps of countrywoman Ayano Shimizu, who won the final phase of the "Rendez-vous" tournament last year and thus earned herself a place in the Junior draw at Roland-Garros.