On an unseasonably warm October morning, a sold-out crowd of spectators ducked under banners emblazoned with images of tennis icons Kevin Anderson, Marin Čilić, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic, milling past rows of sportswear stalls and gourmet food trucks into the Musashino Forest Sport Plaza to view the final matches of the 10th annual Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships on Sunday, October 7. The atmosphere was nothing short of electric as Kei Nishikori, who has won the tournament twice, prepared to face off against 22-year-old rising star Daniil Medvedev for the singles title.
Founded in 1972, the Japan Open is a tournament steeped in history. It’s also the country’s largest and (and currently only) men’s tennis tournament officially accredited by the ATP World Tour. The event took on its current moniker when Rakuten stepped up to become the official sponsor in 2009.
An avid tennis supporter, Rakuten Chairman and CEO Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani remarked on how quickly the last decade had flown by when he addressed the crowd at the opening ceremony. “Over the past 10 years, we’ve worked hand in hand with the Japan Tennis Association to make our partnership more than just a title. Thanks to their incredible efforts, the Rakuten Open continues to grow and mature year after year. I couldn’t be more pleased.”
Walking up towards the stadium, Rakuten’s presence was clear for spectators to see. Tucked in between sportswear tents flanked by oversized tennis rackets, guests were greeted by kiosks showcasing Rakuten Check, Rakuten Viber and other Rakuten services. There was also a spacious cafe on hand where guests could make purchases using the mobile payment service Rakuten Pay. Inside the venue, fans were greeted by a large-size Okaimono Panda (or Shopping Panda) which proved a popular spot for selfies.
The day’s events kicked off with a championship doubles match, featuring the formidable lineup of Raven Klaasen (South Africa) and Michael Venus (New Zealand) facing off against crowd favorite Ben McLachlan (Japan) and Jan-Lennard Struff (Germany). McLachlan and Struff pushed past the competition in two straight sets for a 6-4, 7-5 victory, helping McLachlan capture the doubles title in Tokyo for a second year in a row.
In the singles championship game, tournament favorite Kei Nishikori faced off against the 198cm Russian Daniil Medvedev for a chance to join Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras as the only players in the world to capture three or more titles in Tokyo.
Many in attendance had come with the hopes of seeing Kei make history, but Daniil’s powerful serves propelled him toward the championship. After a few close games, Nishikori struggled to regain his momentum and Medvedev broke away, scooping up a 6-2, 6-4 win to claim his third trophy of the season and biggest title yet.
At the closing awards ceremony, Medvedev, who will climb to a career-best No. 22 in the ATP rankings, commented “I’m extremely happy to be here in Tokyo. It’s an amazing city full of amazing people. You don’t get that everywhere in the world, so thank you guys and I hope to see you next year!” The tournament winner also extended his gratitude to the hometown hero, “I would like to thank Kei, he’s a great champion—one of the best players in our sport. That makes the win even more important for me.”
At the end of the day, everyone agreed that the Rakuten Open was something special. “It was amazing to see these world class players up close and in person here in Japan,” commented one tennis fan on the conclusion of the match.
No doubt, many fans are already awaiting the next Rakuten Open. The annual tournament will return to the newly renovated Ariake Coliseum next year, which is currently undergoing preparations for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic tennis events.