With Li's departure, the 24-year-old Japanese is now Asia's top
player, having reached a career high ranking of eight after his
fairytale run at Flushing Meadows.
"I was shocked. It is sad that I can't see her play anymore,"
Nishikori told reporters in Hong Kong, where he helped launch the
ATP tour's Asian swing of tournaments.
"I think Li Na and some other Chinese ladies have done so many
amazing things for Asian tennis.
"She won grand slams that we have never done before. I hope she can
still be involved in tennis and I hope I can be the next one to lead
Having become the first man from an Asian country to reach a grand
slam final, Nishikori would appear a worthy successor to the
32-year-old Chinese, who became the continent's first grand slam
title winner with her breakthrough at the 2011 French Open.
Li's late-blooming career -- she won at Roland Garros when 29 and at
Melbourne Park this year as a 31-year-old -- should also give
Nishikori some confidence that his best tennis is ahead of him.
With Li out of the picture, Nishikori is also far and away the
continent's top earner, ranked ninth in the sport's top 10 overall,
according to an annual survey released by Forbes.com last month.
The value of Brand Nishikori has soared with his grand slam success,
marketing experts say, and he can expect to rise further up the
Forbes list to compete with the likes of Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal
and Maria Sharapova.
Hand-in-hand with that will be endless demands on his time from
sponsors, media and tennis officials, an off-court whirlwind that Li
struggled to deal with in the wake of her maiden triumph at Roland
Garros and blamed, in large part, for a dip in form that lasted more
than a year.
As the local headliner for the ATP's Asian swing, a clump of five
hard-court tournaments starting in Kuala Lumpur on Monday and
finishing with the Masters series event in Shanghai next month,
Nishikori had a taste of what to expect in Hong Kong as the
continent's main attraction.
On Friday, before Li had posted her retirement letter on social
media accounts, Nishikori had already made several TV studio
appearances with local broadcasters.
Another round of interviews at a dim sum lunch followed a photo-op
on a traditional junk boat sailing across the harbor.
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A larger media conference with dozens of reporters preceded a trip
to a local tennis club for a coaching clinic with juniors, with the
day capped off as guest of honor at an evening cocktail party hosted
by the ATP.
"Kei has had very little downtime since New York and made a huge
effort to come to Hong Kong today to help promote the ATP World Tour
tournaments in Asia," said Alison Lee, a senior ATP executive. "He
is a superstar who is gracious and inspiring to millions of people
in this region."
Nishikori can expect more of the same as he bids to become the first
Asian man to qualify for the ATP's World Tour finals.
Where China's women put tennis firmly on the map in Asia, leading to
an explosion of WTA events across the continent over the past
decade, Japanese men currently hold the key for the men's tour.
Nishikori is one of an all-time high of 18 Asian players, including
seven from Japan, currently in the top 200.
Where there were only five Asian men finishing in the top 200 at the
end of the 2003 season, there were 12 in 2013, according to ATP
Strong performances in the Asian swing, where Nishikori will compete
at Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo and Shanghai, could seal Nishikori's spot
among the top eight to reach the World Tour finals, a small but
important milestone for the continent's rise in the men's game.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)
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