Japanese tennis stars feeling remote after World Cup heartbreak

Taro Daniel lost his match against Fabio Fognini. (AFP pic)

LONDON: Japan’s Taro Daniel fears the wrath of his compatriots after missing the national side’s dramatic exit from the football World Cup because he couldn’t find the right channel on his hotel TV.

Daniel wanted to watch Monday’s roller-coaster match when Japan blew a 2-0 lead against Belgium in the round of 16 in Russia, losing 3-2 with Nacer Chadli scoring a heartbreaking winner in the fourth minute of injury time.

However, Daniel missed the thriller as finding the right channel on the remote control proved elusive.

“I’m not a huge football fan but I was following the score,” he told AFP.

“I couldn’t find the channel on my room TV, so I was just watching some movies. Probably, Japanese people would kill me if I say that! Disappointing, I guess.”

“If I would have found it on TV I would have watched it. But, I mean, not super concentrated, either, because I was by myself.”

Daniel said the Japanese players try to stick together at Wimbledon, with parties and games on the agenda.

“We always have this… party the Saturday before the tournament starts, and we have dinner all together and play games, card games and whatever. It’s always fun,” he said.

The Japanese tennis contingent tried to salvage some national sporting pride at Wimbledon on Tuesday after the football heartbreak.

Kei Nishikori led the way, beating his good friend Christian Harrison in four sets to kick off his campaign at the All England Club.

Naomi Osaka, seeded 18th, beat Romania’s Monica Niculescu 6-4, 6-1. Osaka went about after the match in a Japan football shirt.

“It was really sad. I was motivated by that. I didn’t want to lose after they lost,” she said of Japan’s defeat to Belgium.

Daniel lost 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 to Italian 19th seed Fabio Fognini.

And Kurumi Nara lost 6-2, 6-4 to world number one Simona Halep on Centre Court.

Nishikori, the 24th seed, beat US qualifier and world number 198 Harrison 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (7/3), 6-2. The pair are mates from their time training together in Florida.

Belgian player David Goffin had room to gloat over the football result during a brief encounter with Nishikori.

“Just saw Kei this morning before his match. I just saw him two seconds. I think he was disappointed about the match,” he said, with a grin.

Nishikori, who reached the US Open final in 2014, is hoping to get past the Wimbledon fourth round for the first time in 10 attempts.

He admits he has found it tough to shine on grass in the past, with injuries often hampering his bid to replicate his impressive hard-court play.

“Points finish much faster than the other courts and surfaces. Everybody has to play a little more aggressive,” the Japanese number one said.

“If you give them one chance, the game will change soon. So far I don’t have a good result yet, but I like to play.”

He faces unpredictable Australian Bernard Tomic in the second round on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Yūichi Sugita was left bemoaning the same luck as the Japanese football team.

Sugita, the world number 69, was beaten 2-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-2, 6-2 by US qualifier Bradley Klahn, ranked 168, leaving him a dejected figure.

“I was pretty sad because this is my favourite court and it was not a good result. It’s not great, for sure,” Sugita told AFP.

“I lost big momentum because I had a set point for the second set and I lost easy. I lost confidence and then the momentum.”

“I’m sad.”

He said of Japan’s defeat to Belgium: “They also lost the momentum after 2-0 so it’s the same as me, so not good for Japan.”