The 10 Best Japanese Tennis Players of All-Time

Naomi Osaka

The JTP, or Japan Tennis Association, was established in the early 1920s and subsequently recognized in 1923 by the ILTF (International Lawn Tennis Federation). The JTP is among the oldest sports organizations in Asia. Its original function, as the Nihon Teikyu Kyoukai, was to operate as a voluntary organization. Now, the JTP, as a national sports federation, seeks to introduce the more modern western-style game of tennis to Japanese players so they will be able to compete on a global stage against solid competition from players in other countries such as Great Britain and Spain.

1. Naomi Osaka was the first of the professional Japanese tennis players to win a singles Grand Slam tournament.

Naomi Osaka plays professional tennis and has had a career singles high ranking of #7. Her first professional Grand Slam win happened when she beat Serena Williams in the finals at the U.S. Open. Naomi Osaka, who plays as a right-handed player with a two-handed backhand, is of mixed heritage – both Japanese and Haitian, although she holds citizenship in both Japan and the United States. Because she has this dual citizenship, Naomi’s dad chose to register her with the JTA when she began her professional career. Osaka turned pro in 2013 and made her debut in the main WTA tour draw the following year at the Bank of the West Classic tournament. Osaka beat two qualifiers to find her way into her first main draw.

2. Kei Nishikori holds the top rank of any Japanese male professional tennis player.

Born in 1989, Kei Nishikori is among the best Japanese tennis players, ranking as high as #4 in 2015 – the only player from Japan to crack the top five singles world ranking. Nishikori, who plays right-handed, has won 12 men’s singles titles during his career. He also reached the U.S. Open final – the first male tennis professional from Asia to reach a Grand Slam final. Kei Nishikori also holds the distinction of being the first Asian male tennis player to qualify for the World Tour Finals put on by the ATP. He also reached two semifinal matches in 2014 and again in 2016. During the 2016 Summer Olympics, Kei Nishikori earned a bronze medal by defeating Rafael Nadal.

3. Kimiko Date has won the Japan Open tennis tournament four times.

Kimiko Date is one of the best former Japanese tennis players, reaching the semifinal games a number of times in her career. Kimiko Date, born in 1970, earned her way into the semifinal games at the 1994 Australian Open and a year later and the French Open. In 1992, she garnered the women’s tour honors as Most Improved Player of the Year. In 1996 she also made an appearance in the Wimbledon semifinal games. Date’s highest ranking was #4, which happened in 1995. While Date retired in 1996, she made a comeback a dozen years later to become the second oldest tennis player (after the legendary Billie Jean King) in the open era to win a singles title on the women’s tour. She reached the semis at the 2014 U.S. Open after winning 3 WTA events in doubles the year earlier. An interesting note about Date is that while she was born left-handed, she played as a right-handed tennis player.

4. Ai Sugiyama reached a career singles high ranking in 2004 of #8.

Ai Sugiyama, who plays as a right-handed player (with a two-handed backhand is a former women’s professional tennis player from Japan. While her highest singles world ranking was #8, Ai Sugiyama reached #1 on the WTA women’s doubles tour. Sugiyama has won more than three dozen doubles titles (including three grand slam women’s and mixed doubles) and six women’s singles titles. Ai, at one time, held the record for the longest consecutive main draw appearances, only surpassed by the great Swiss player Roger Federer when he entered the 205 Wimbledon Championship games.

5. Shingo Kuniedada is the former #1 world-ranked wheelchair tennis player.

Shingo Kunieda, who was born in Tokyo in 1984, was the ITF World champ from 2007 to 2100. In 2015, Shingo achieved the impressive feat of completing the Grand Slam in singles, in five years. As a doubles professional tennis player Shingo Kunieda, a right-handed tennis player, ranked at the top of the world rankings in 2007. He is recognized to be the only men’s singles tennis champion to retain his title at the Paralympic Games. Remarkably, Shingo Kunieda had a 106-match (over three years, 2007 – 2010) consecutive winning streak. He followed this amazing win streak from 2014 to 2015, when he won another 77 matches in a row. This second consecutive win streak was broken during the 2015 NEC Masters tennis tournament.

6. Yichi Sugita was the 3rd Japanese professional tennis player to win an ATP tennis tournament title.

Born in 1988, Yichi Sugita achieved a career-high ranking on the men’s professional tour in 2017 at #26. Sugita is still active and has won one ATP tour title. Sugita, who is a right-handed player with a two-handed backhand, won his first title in 2017 at the ATP World Tour in Turkey. In 2014, Sugita qualified for Wimbledon, which was the first time he qualified for a Grand Slam event after seventeen attempts. In 2016, Yichi Sugita made the main draw for the Australian Open but lost to Gael Monfils. His first win over a top-ten player happened at the Australian Open in 2018, where he beat then-ranked #9 Jack Sock, an American, in four sets.

7. Ichiya Kumagae won Japan’s first Olympic medal as a men’s tennis player.

Ichiya “Ichy” Kumagae was born in 1890 and turned pro in 1913. He retired eight years later after becoming the first of Japanese athletes to win an Olympic medal and the first Japanese tennis players to compete on an international level. Two years later, Ichy won both the singles and doubles titles when competing in the Far Eastern Games. Ichiya Kumagae also competed at the U.S. Open in 1916, plus another 60 tournaments in the country, finishing the year at #5 in the U.S. His U.S. ranking reached #3 a few years later. In 1919, Kumagae won the Great Lakes Champions, beating the infamous Bill Tilden in the final match. In 1921, Kumagae was the captain of Japan’s Davis Cup team, which lost to the American team in the finals – the best finish ever. After WWII, Ichiya Kumagae composed a technical manual on the game and even coached the national team.

8. Ayumi Morita is a small and fast player who is considered mentally tough.

Ayumi Morita is a female Japanese tennis player who was born in 1990. Morita, who plays as a right-handed player, reached a career-high ranking of 40th in the world in 2011. At the junior level as a player, Morita hit a rank of #3. Ayumi Morita is known for her strong ground strokes and mental stamina, and fortitude. She hangs tough in matches in which others would generally falter, despite her serve, which needed added strength. Morita’s footwork is quick, which allows her to move about the court effectively. She is recognized to be among the most successful players who have played in the Fed Cup, holding a winning record of 23-14 for her native country.

9. Akiko Morigami defeated Marion Bartoli to win the singles tournament in Prague in 2007.

Born in 1980, Akiko Morigami is one of the former women professional Japanese tennis players. Morigami turned professional in 1998, reaching a career singles high ranking in 2005 of #42. Playing as a right-handed tennis player (with a two-handed backhand), Morigami won one single title during her professional career when she beat the top-seeded French player, Marion Bartoli, in Prague in 2007, in only two sets. Akiko Morigami reached two WTA singles finals in 2005 and 2007. In 2006, she beat the #3 world-ranked player (Nadia Petrova) in the first round. Morigami retired after competing in the HP Women’s Open Tournament in Osaka. Her last match was a loss to Samantha Stosur, who became the eventual champion that year.

10. Ryuki Miki won the Wimbledon Championships doubles mixed-doubles title in 1934.

Born in 1904, Ryuki Miki played his first tennis tournament in 1924 at the Japan International Championships – and reached the final, where he ultimately lost. Ryuki Miki played six times at Wimbledon (1929 to 1934), where he reached the quarter-final matches two times. Miki was a member of Japan’s 1932 Davis Cup team, winning each of his matches played with Jiro Sato. In 1934, Ryuki Miki was appointed as the non-playing team captain that represented Japan in the Davis Cup.

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