How does one begin to measure toughness? It’s probably most akin to gauging or producing team chemistry, and about as tangible. Lucky for Kei Nishikori and his coach, American legend Michael Chang, both have seemed to arrive for them almost effortlessly, with favorable results nearly as rapidly.
Since naming Chang, the former world No. 2 and the 1989 French Open champion, to a support team that includes longtime coach Dante Bottini, Nishikori’s game and results have continued to grow. After turning pro in 2007, the top-ranked Japanese player slowly rose in the rankings up to a career-high No 11 for a handful of weeks in 2013, ending that season at No 17. But talk about impact. Since Chang began working with him, Nishikori, now 25, has won seven of his 10 ATP titles (including three this season), broken into the top five (he’s currently No. 4 in the world), and made it to his first grand slam final at last year’s U.S. Open.
After losing the first set to the reigning Wimbledon champ on July 3, 1920, the upper-crust Pennsylvanian looked destined for defeat. But the American hadn’t devoted those many months to honing his backhand to be disgraced by his well-built Australian opponent. So instead of matching stroke for stroke to overcome his rival, this “consummate tactician” relied on his brains.
Borna Coric has been at the helm of some of pro tennis’s biggest upsets over the past year. But ask him who his favorite athletes were growing up, and you won’t hear only the names of your typical tennis legends. You’ll hear the name Mike Tyson.
Does it make sense? Not particularly until you hear that his early hope in life — assuming he was not a tennis player — was to be inside a ring trading punches. He’s even seen nearly all of Iron Mike’s fights on YouTube and says he likes the former heavyweight champ’s professional persona. “I just like his character when he’s in the ring,” the 18-year-old tells OZY.
It’s been quite the ride for tennis player David Goffin of late. The 23-year-old, who started the year coming off a wrist injury and ranked No. 110 in the world, has since won first ATP World Tour title, ended the season with a career-high ranking of No. 22 and was dubbed the ATP Comeback Player of the Year. But like many of today’s most promising players, Goffin isn’t from the United States—he’s from a country that’s smaller than the population of Pennsylvania: Belgium.
In the world of pro tennis, it’s no secret that the days of American supremacy appear numbered—and, some say, may already be gone forever. But there’s perhaps another shift going on that’s even more groundbreaking, and that may set a new course for the direction of the sport—and where the tournaments are heading may provide some insight. A handful of top pros, for instance, are making stops in Singapore (also currently the home of the WTA Finals), Delhi (the first host for the ATP’s Chennai Open) and Dubai, as well as the Philippines (all quite a ways from either the U.S. Open in Queens or Wimbledon in London) as part of the new offseason International Premier Tennis League. At this rate, many observers say, it may only be a matter of time before such events help inspire a kid from the region to become the next Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. “The Middle East, the Far East and Asia are experiencing tremendous growth as far as tennis is concerned,” says Mahesh Bhupathi, the IPTL’s founder and managing director.