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Second Serve - A Tennis Now Blog

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By Nick Georgandis

Kei Nishikori's upset win over Roger Federer in the third round at Madrid on Thursday reminded us once again that the Asian world has really just scratched the surface on potential tennis talent.

Nishikori is ranked No. 16 in the world. Indonesia, Hong Kong, both Koreas, China, Tawain and Malaysia combine for exactly one other player in the Top 100 - Tawain's Yen-Husn Lu, currently ranked No. 71.

Despite having a population of 1.34 billion, China's highest-ranked male player is Ze Zhang at No. 154.

Asia is a bit better represented on the WTA tour, with China's Li Na at No. 5, Peng Shuai at No. 35, Su-Wei Hsieh at No. 38, Jand ie Zheng at No. 50. Japan is represented by Ayumi Morita at No. 43, Kimiko Date-Krumm at No. 77 and Misaki Doi at No. 89.

China's Li is the most successful Asian tennis player (born and living there, which eliminates American Michael Chang from this particular discussion) ever - the only Asian to win a Slam (French, 2011), the first to reach the final of a Slam Australian, 2011) and still revelant two years later, ranked No. 5 in the world.

In his native Japan, Nishikori follows in the footsteps of Kimiko Date-Krumm and Shuzo Matsuoka. Date-Krumm was ranked as high as No. 4 in the world before retiring at age 26 in 1996, only to return to the tour in 2008 and become the second-oldest female player to win a WTA tournament when she won the 2009 Hansol Korea Open at age 38 years, 364 days.

Matsuoka was the first Japanese player to ever win a singles event on tour when he took Queen's Club in 1992. In 1995, he made the quarterfinals of Wimbledon and took the first set off the immortal Pete Sampras before falling in four.

Still, Nishikori's upset of No. 2 Federer rippled across Asia on Thursday, particuarly given Nishikori's youth (23 years old) and previous pain against players in the Top 10 (he improved to 8-19 against Top 10 players overall).

His last win over a Top 10 player came against No. 6 Tomas Berdych in the Tokyo quarterfinals last year. This is his biggest win since upsetting No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals at Basel in 2011. Djokovic came into that match with a staggering 72-3 record.

What Nishikori does with the win over Federer and the rest of the Madrid Open will tell us just how big an accomplishment it was. Now 18-6 on the year, Nishikori will take on wild card Pablo Andujar in the next round, now a win away from a semifinal showdown against either No. 4 David Ferrer or No. 5 Rafael Nadal.