Table Speech

What I Can Be Most Proud of

May 15, 2019

Mr. Shuzo Matsuoka
Director, Japan Tennis Association

 Japan Tennis Association is very proud of Naomi Osaka who is now at the top of the World Ranking after winning a Grand Slam twice. We are also very proud of Kei Nishikori, who reached No.4 in the World Ranking in spite of his repeated injuries. After I retired from active competitions 20 years ago, I became all the more enthusiastic to pursue my second dream. My first dream was to play at the center court of Wimbledon, where my heroes, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors once played. In 1995, I made it to the best 8 and in the following year in 1996 my dream came true and I played at the center court.

 In those days, it was a total dream for the Japanese male players to make it within the top 100 in the World Ranking. I was 18 years old when I met my coach Bob Brett for the first time. He said to me, “Shuzo, if you concentrate on playing tennis seriously for 5 years, you’ll become a Top 100 player”, though he added “maybe” at the end. I entered the professional tennis world, but I must say it is too late to start a professional life at the age of 18. Then my second dream grew up in me to foster junior players to be able to become world champions. SHUZO Challenge, an initiative to strengthen juniors which I have continued for 20 years together with expert staff, is one thing I can be proud of. Now our junior team is winning excellent results at team competitions. We also treasure harmony and team power. Mr. Sakurai, our head coach, have made presentations three times at the International Tennis Federation on why Japanese junior team was making such a good result.

 What I tell junior players is “prompt assessment, prompt decision and prompt execution”, which Japanese people are not very good at. Also, I teach they should not be controlled by balls but must control them. Ability to express oneself is also an important element. Many junior players joined the training camp of SHUZO Challenge and I found Kei Nishikori had the least ability to express himself among his teammates. However, Kei Nishikori and Roger Federer are now surely two of the most talented players. Novak Djokovic is physically and mentally more powerful, but Kei Nishikori is superior when it comes to the talent of tennis. I realized this when he was only 11. He told me that his dream was to win a victory at the Grand Slam Tournaments. So, I treated him most severely. For three years he repeatedly shed a bucketful of tears.

 In order to enter tournaments overseas, junior players must express themselves proficiently in English. In the training camps they attend, the session enables them to freely express themselves both in words and by physical movements. One time I called Kei and asked him to express himself in English in one minute. He started, “My name is Kei. I like tennis.” Then he stopped and started to cry as he couldn’t continue any more. I asked him, “Do you want to quit and go home?” Then he said, “I like orange juice.” That’s quite OK. Communication ability under such a tense atmosphere is indispensable for playing overseas.

 The Japan Open Junior Tennis Championship is the only Junior International Tournament held in Japan for top junior players around the world of 18 years old or under. I really wanted Kei to make an entry, though he was only 12 at that time. A host country is entitled to use Wild Card (WC), which is a special quota. I wanted to give WC to Kei in spite of strong opposition, which was quite natural considering his age. I wouldn’t give up though and became a sponsor of the tournament and in 2002 and 2003 it was held as SHUZO Challenge Japan Open Junior. As a sponsor I was able to use WC for Kei. He played against a very tall 18-year-old British player and was totally defeated. I scolded him severely, not because he was defeated but because I could see he had mentally given up from the beginning. “If you think you were beaten because you are small or because you are a Japanese, then quit playing. Don’t you feel frustrated?” The following year he defeated a very tall and big American player. Kei used to tell me that he was most scared when I scolded him at that time, but he kept playing in the world believing he could beat big tall players. Kei then left to IMG Academy in Florida supported by Morita Fund. Before he left he said to me, “I’ll perform what I have learned from Shuzo-san in the States.” Kei, who was physically not strong and often suffered from illness and injuries, went all the way up to the 4th place in the world.

 Common knowledge in the past was that it was not possible for Japanese players to rank within the top 100 players. Now we all know it is surely possible as we are all same humans. I wish many juniors who joined the SHUZO Challenge Junior Camp will become champions of their life not only in tennis but in the society as a whole.

 I believe there are three kinds of happiness in this world: happiness you receive, happiness you create and possess, and most importantly the happiness you give to others. I wish junior players will grow up and become champions of their life who can give lots of happiness to others. That is exactly what I can be most proud of.