This week EA SPORTS was pleased to welcome Japanese tennis phenom Kei Nishikori to its Tiburon studio in Orlando, Florida. Nishikori visited EA SPORTS to try out its new tennis game Grand Slam Tennis. He first took a few practice swings on a Roland Garros practice court and once he got a feel for the motions, Nishikori jumped right into a match. His first choice? Centre Court at Wimbledon versus Pete Sampras.
“He was one of my heroes and I just wanted to play against him,” said Nishikori, who currently resides in Bradenton, Florida.
He said it was “a weird feeling” to see himself in the video game. But added, “I like it. I was thinking about it the past couple months that I’m in the game. It was one of my dreams so I’m pretty happy.”
While this was his first time playing the Wii, Nishikori is no stranger to video games, having played Playstation 3 numerous times.
“This is the first time I’ve ever played the Wii and the first time I’ve played this game but it felt so real. It was fun because you swing with your arm, it was good exercise to play the game.”
Grand Slam Tennis was designed and developed by EA Canada to be the deepest tennis gaming experience and Nishikori said it felt like a realistic experience on the court. He would hold the Wii remote with two hands when hitting his backhand.
“I didn’t think anything of it; I just played tennis because it feels like real tennis,” said Nishikori. “I didn’t know you can hit spins, slice, drop shots and all the shots so it felt real. And the guy looks just like me.”
As one of the cover athletes for the Japanese version of the game, Nishikori joins an illustrious group of superstars who have graced the cover of an EA SPORTS Game. On the Japanese cover, he’s flanked by Rafael Nadal and John McEnroe, an honour that wasn’t lost on him.
“Honestly I felt a little bad because I’m in the middle between Nadal and McEnroe and those two guys are legends and unbelievable players. But I’m still happy to be on the cover.”
After playing Sampras, Nishikori selected Nadal, perhaps a rematch from their 3-setter at Queen’s Club last summer, a match he remembers well.
“I was so nervous to play against Nadal because he was number two at that time. I practiced with him about 4 years ago and I felt like there was no way I could beat him and a couple years later I played him. I was so happy to play against him and I played awesome. I lost in three sets but I remember that was a good match. Maybe I can get revenge in this game and hopefully I can win next time.”
After enjoying the game, recording some promo spots, doing a photo shoot and a radio interview for EA SPORTS, it was back to business for the Japanese star.
“I have to practice this afternoon but hopefully later I can go to the beach and go shopping.”
That’s something he’s able to do a bit more easily in the U.S. because in Japan, Nishikori is like a rock star, having to be accompanied by security at all times.
“I cannot walk in the streets or even outside during a tennis tournament. I don’t feel it here in the U.S. but when I got back to Japan it’s crazy.”
Nishikori finished 2008 ranked #63 in the world after starting the year #289. Last year he received the “Newcomer of the Year” award, which was voted on by all the players on the ATP Tour.
Other Kei Nishikori quotes:
On seeing himself in the game for the first time:
“It was a little embarrassing but it was fun. Weird feeling because I’m in the game and I never thought I was going to be in a video game so it was fun.”
On the prospect of playing on the most famous tennis courts in the world:
“I’ve never played on Centre Court before so it’s good to play and imagine. It looks just like the real Centre Court.”
On whether the game offered a realistic introduction to tennis:
“It’s fun to play and everybody can play even if you don’t know tennis so it’s good to start with this game.”
On how it feels to be in the game with some of the greatest tennis legends:
“I’m not a top player yet but I’m happy to be with these guys, the top players and maybe soon I can play them on the real court.”
On the legends in the game that he follows:
“My dad loves Bjorn Borg so I think he’s going to love playing this game.”
“I want to play against Roger Federer because I haven’t played him yet and he’s the greatest player.”
“For sure it’s fun to play against the legends and with me in the game, my family loves it.”
On who he tries to emulate on the real tennis court:
“I’m not like him but I try to play like Roger Federer because he can play on any surface and it’s just fun to watch him play.”
Photo Credit: Carlos Navarro/EA SPORTS