NEW YORK – It wasn’t Yoshihito Nishioka’s first time qualifying at a Slam, but it was his most dramatic.
The last time we saw Nishioka, he was playing then-14-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime in the quarter-finals of the Granby Challenger, live on TV across Quebec, and having a heck of a time beating him.
The Japanese lefty is only 19 himself, hardly seasoned, and at a listed 5-foot-7 has a lot of work to do to stay even with his bigger, stronger opponents.
In the final round of qualifying at the US Open, after winning the first set over Brit Kyle Edmund, Nishioka was in serious trouble. He was administered a bagel in the second set, and found himself down 2-5 in the third, facing three match points.
Somehow, he managed to come all the way back and win 6-2, 0-6, 7-5.
Given that, this reaction was probably not over the top.
His first-round draw was a serependitous one, against another qualifier in Paul-Henri Mathieu of France.
Nishioka was down two sets to one in that one, before coming back to win the fourth and fifth 6-1, 6-2.
That earned him an on-court TV interview (then again, he’s Japanese, that probably would have happened anyway. But he was in a much better mood for it).
It came to an end in the second round, when Nishioka lost to Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil (a fellow lefty), 6-0 6-3, 6-4.
In the end, it didn’t help him that much, except of course for the prize money. In the interim, a bunch of players played Challenger events and despite going a round further at the Open than he did a year ago, he (provisionally) dropped 16 spots in the rankings.