Two modern-day stars are inspiring a brand new generation of tennis talent in Japan.
Naomi Osaka burst onto the scene when she won the US Open final against Serena Williams last year – becoming the first Japanese player to win a grand slam singles title.
Meanwhile, Kei Nishikori moved back into the top-10 of the men’s singles rankings by year’s end after overcoming a series of injury concerns.
He reached the quarter-finals of Wimbledon last year and was a finalist at the 2014 US Open.
Their success has certainly had a spillover effect at the junior level, with five budding stars trying their luck on the Border’s grass courts the past week.
Coach Daisuke Kobayashi was pleased with the way they played at Albury's Margaret Court Cup and has seen them carry that form onto the Victorian Junior Grasscourt Championships at Wodonga Tennis Centre this week.
“It’s a grade up from what they play in Japan,” Kobayashi said.
“It’s the first time on grass for a lot of the players here this year, but I have played three times.
“It’s a good experience for the younger players.”
Kobayashi said tennis is becoming increasingly popular in Japan.
“Most popular is baseball and next is soccer, so tennis would be the third biggest in Japan,” he said.
“Many have grown up playing tennis in schools.
“Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka have really helped to raise the profile of tennis in Japan.
“It was massive news in Japan when Naomi won the US Open.”
Young gun Ippei Matsushima teamed up with Aarya Khore to finish the Margaret Court Cup under-10 boys doubles undefeated, dropping just nine games across their four matches.
Mao Sakagami combined with Katherine Harrison at the same tournament to finish runner-up in the under-10 girls doubles.
Kobayashi and the other two coaches on the trip have also been contesting the open singles events.
“I made it to the last 32 in the open singles, while one of the other coaches lost in qualifying,” he said.
“I hope that Ippei (Matsushima) can win this tournament as well and get more experience.
“I hope they can keep winning many titles.”
A trip to the Border wouldn’t be complete without finishing at the Australian Open.
“We will go on Sunday to the Australian Open for maybe four or five days,” Kobayashi said.
“We want to watch Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka and I want to watch (Roger) Federer.
“We love watching the Australian Open.”
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