by JAMES HENRY
ATLANTA – Just 20 years old, Yoshihito Nishioka is maturing quickly.
The Japanese tennis player used to be temperamental on the tennis court, even smashing his rackets.
But that changed at this year’s Wimbledon Championships.
Defeating Andrey Golubev of Kazakhstan, Frederico Ferreira Silva of Portugal and Quentin Halys of France, Nishioka fought his way through qualifying to the main draw.
He lost in the first round to Ukrainian Sergiy Stakhovsky, but the experience had a profound effect.
“Before, I was very emotional, throwing rackets and getting frustrated. But I’ve been more calm since Wimbledon,” he said.
A quarterfinalist at the Delray Beach Open in 2015 and the Memphis Open earlier this year, Nishioka now has advanced to his first ATP World Tour semifinal.
He said he is looking forward to facing 21-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios at the BB&T Atlanta Open. They have known each other since they were 14 years old, competing together since they were 16.
At 5-feet-7, Nishioka’s serve is a bigger weapon than some opponents perhaps expect.
“I’ve been working on my serve a lot. More percentage, more power,” he said, noting that he has been working to build his body and become stronger by lifting weights.
Often smiling, Nishioka has a positive demeanor when competing. He credits that upbeat attitude, which allows him to control his emotions and focus on the task at hand, for his recent success.
“I think that’s why I’m winning more now,” he said.
Nishioka started playing tennis when he was 4 years old with his father, Norio, a tennis coach.
His idol growing up was former World No. 1 and 1998 Australian Open finalist Marcelo Ríos of Chile. Both play left-handed and hit a two-handed backhand.
Nishioka’s favorite surface is a hard court, and his favorite shot is his backhand.
“My home court is a carpet,” he said. “I like the faster courts.”
With the 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, Nishioka’s goal is to have enough ranking points so he can represent his country as it hosts the prestigious event.
“The Olympics are pretty important in Japan,” he noted.
He is on his way, gaining confidence, as well as maturity, as the season progresses.
In particular, Nishioka is proud of his victory, as a qualifier, against Spaniard Feliciano López in the second round of this year’s Miami Open main draw.
This week in Atlanta, he has defeated Dan Evans of Great Britain, Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina – all, at least for now, with better rankings.
“I’m really improving against the higher-ranked players,” Nishioka said.
He currently is No. 97, breaking the top 100 last month after winning the ATP Challenger Tour event in Winnetka, Ill.
Photos by James Henry for Onthegotennis