World Middle East

The Path to Peace
Joe Klein

Jan. 8, 2015

A Palestinian man prays in a Gaza neighborhood destroyed during the war last year between Hamas and Israel

On May 26, 2014, an unprecedented public conversation took place in Brussels. Two former high-ranking spymasters of Israel and Saudi Arabia–Amos Yadlin and Prince Turki al-Faisal–sat together for more than an hour, talking regional politics in a conversation moderated by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius. They disagreed on some things, like the exact nature of an Israel-Palestine peace settlement, and agreed on others: the severity of the Iranian nuclear threat, the need to support the new military government in Egypt, the demand for concerted international action in Syria. The most striking statement came from Prince Turki. He said the Arabs had “crossed the Rubicon” and “don’t want to fight Israel anymore.”

The Turki-Yadlin dialogue was not “official,” but it sent a clear message. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah had personally approved the meeting, intending it as an olive branch to the Israelis. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to reciprocate–at least not openly. It was too dangerous politically. Crucial components of Netanyahu’s coalition, especially his supporters among right-wing Jewish settlers in the West Bank, oppose any deal with Palestinians.

And yet, in the months after he decided against a public gesture to the Saudis, Netanyahu was suggesting at private meals with editors and influential figures at the U.N. General Assembly meetings last September that an alliance with the Arabs was not only possible but perhaps the best way to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Other odd things have been happening recently in the gridlocked Middle East. On New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi made an interesting speech, challenging Islamic radicalism and calling for a Muslim reformation. “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred,” he said, “should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world. Impossible!” The sentiments were not unexpected, since al-Sisi had come to power by overthrowing the country’s democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood leaders in 2013. (Al-Sisi won a largely uncontested presidential election last year.) But these are not sentiments that have often been uttered publicly by Arab leaders before.

And then, the very next day, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and exiled Palestinian leader Mohammed Dahlan had met privately in Paris. Dahlan has made no secret of his desire to replace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; Lieberman is a conservative who has fallen out with Netanyahu and wants to be part of a coalition to replace him. So what on earth were Dahlan and Lieberman talking about?

All of this may add up to nothing. But there seems to be a growing impatience with the perpetual status quo in the region. There is a new generation of leaders pushing for power in Israel and Palestine. There are dangerous new threats like ISIS. There is concern about the U.S.–the possibility of a nuclear deal with Iran, the waning need for Middle East oil. There is the memory of the Arab Spring, which ultimately produced chaos instead of democracy.

The established powers in the region, like Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have found in recent years that they have increasingly aligned foreign policy interests. The Israelis and Saudis have been sharing intelligence for the past few years, according to regional sources. The Israelis and Egyptians are cooperating on security efforts in Sinai and in Gaza, where Hamas–the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood–is a common enemy. There are private talks going on between Israeli and Saudi Arabian officials. “It might be called mushroom diplomacy,” an Israeli told me. “It can only grow in the dark.”

Most Israeli and Arab officials I spoke with during a December tour of the region acknowledge the mushrooms and hope that the burgeoning relationships–especially the acceptance of Israel as a de facto ally–can be brought to light in time. There are, of course, all the usual roadblocks, including the eternal one: nothing can happen publicly without an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement. The Saudis and the Arab League promised to recognize Israel in 2002 if such a deal were made, but the Arab terms–a return to 1967 borders, with Palestinians’ right of return to their former lands in Israel–were unacceptable to the Israelis. Now those terms may be changing. Prince Turki described the proposal as a “framework,” which implies room to maneuver.

Is it possible that the Middle East has become so unstable that an Arab-Israeli peace is no longer unthinkable?

The ISIS Effect
As 2015 begins, the Middle East seems to be a greater mess than it ever was–especially when it comes to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The deterioration began with Israel’s 50-day war in Gaza last summer, which increased the popularity of Hamas in the West Bank and has led Abbas to take a series of steps toward the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. In recent weeks, the Palestinian Authority applied for membership in the International Criminal Court–a red flag to the Israelis because the Palestinians would presumably use membership to bring war-crimes charges against Israel. In return, the Israelis have cut off the monthly payment of taxes they collect for the PA, which represent almost 80% of the government’s $160 million monthly budget. It is possible that the Palestinians could retaliate by suspending government operations in the West Bank–schools, health care and, especially, security. Chaos would be the likely result.

In the rest of the region, the sectarian split between Sunni and Shi’ite has become more dangerous, even as it has become more confusing. The Sunni Arab nations–which include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states–have worried for a decade that the U.S. demolition of Saddam Hussein’s ugly but stable dictatorship in Iraq has created a power vacuum in a broad swath of the region that the Iranians are exploiting. They call it the “Shi’ite crescent,” a sphere of influence stretching from Hizballah-controlled southern Lebanon and President Bashar Assad’s Alawite regime in Syria, to Iraq and Iran, right up to the border of the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, a majority-Shi’ite area where most of the country’s oil is produced.

But the old Sunni-Shi’ite conflict has been complicated by a new threat in the region: ISIS, a Sunni radical military force vastly more competent and frightening than al-Qaeda. ISIS began in Iraq but made its mark in the rebellion against Assad’s government in Syria. Assad isn’t well liked by his Sunni neighbors–and some of them, like Qatar and perhaps private sources in Saudi Arabia, gave surreptitious support to ISIS and other Sunni militias in the early days of the rebellion.

The lightning march ISIS made through Iraq last year changed the equation. An ISIS-controlled Iraq would be a threat not only to Iran but also to some of the Sunni royal families in the region, as well as Egypt. The Jordanians–already overwhelmed by refugees from Iraq, Syria and Palestine–are vulnerable. The Saudis, governed by an increasingly feeble gerontocracy–the 90-year-old Abdullah was hospitalized with pneumonia at the start of the new year–are worried too. The Egyptians are fighting ISIS-style terrorists in Sinai and are threatened by Libyan militias, which may also be loosely affiliated with ISIS.

In response, a heterodox alliance has gathered to make war with ISIS. Iranian-backed militias, like Hizballah, are the most ardent fighters in this war, along with the Kurds. But they are now joined by U.S. airpower–as well as pilots from Sunni powers like Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Another potentially major change in the region: the Israelis, Iranians, Saudis and Egyptians are increasingly concerned about Turkey, which sees the ISIS threat somewhat differently from its neighbors. Turkey has allegedly allowed thousands of militants to cross its border and join ISIS because the group is fighting Assad and militant Kurdish groups like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the Turks see as a permanent threat in the south and east of their country. (Turkey has acknowledged that its border with Syria is porous but has denied accusations that it purposefully allows militants to cross.) “Why aren’t you Americans making more of a fuss about Turkey’s support for ISIS?” a prominent Egyptian official asked me. “I read a lot more about our humanitarian problems in the American press than I do about the Turks who are allowing terrorists to cross their border and behead Americans.”

Of course, the “humanitarian problems” in Egypt are very real, as al-Sisi’s forces have led a brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptians have become sensitive to the point of paranoia about the changing U.S. role in the region. I had dinner in Cairo with a group of prominent leaders. One of them, a banker, asked seriously, “Is it true that there is a secret alliance between Obama and the Muslim Brotherhood to destabilize the existing Sunni governments in the region?”

I started to laugh, but none of the Egyptians at the table were smiling. They didn’t buy the banker’s conspiracy theory, but they laid out an array of charges, ranging from the (pre-Obama) Iraq invasion to the President’s support for the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak to the Administration’s recent slow walk of military supplies, especially spare parts, to the al-Sisi government. “Doesn’t he want us to be fighting ISIS in Sinai?” asked the banker.

The Obama Administration maintains that all al-Sisi has to do is free some political prisoners–especially those who are American and three jailed journalists from al-Jazeera who were accused, implausibly, of joining a terrorist group and broadcasting “false news”–and the military support will flow again. The Administration argues that its overall policy–steering clear of neocolonial adventurism like the 2003 invasion of Iraq and working to bring Iran back into the international community–has been more effective than George W. Bush’s neoconservatism. Obama aides also point out that there are two U.S. naval fleets in the region, plus U.S. bases in Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Djibouti. “Does that sound like disengagement?” one of them asked me. “We’re not going anywhere.”

From Washington, the region seems a jigsaw puzzle ruled by anarchic moving pieces–a disproportionate source of concern that leaches attention from growing problems in Russia and East Asia. From Cairo and Riyadh and Jerusalem, though, the U.S. seems a fickle ally that can’t decide whether its policy is to support stability or the naive hope for democracy in a region that isn’t ready for it.

The modern Middle East was stabilized, in a toxic but effective way, by the Cold War, when partnership with superpowers provided security and economic aid. In the 21st century, the USSR is gone and the U.S. no longer has the incentive, or the money, to lavish vast aid packages on local clients. But the nations of the Middle East have been unable to wean themselves from their dependency on outside forces. “Whenever we’re in trouble we dial 911,” an Arab diplomat told me. “But it is illogical to think the U.S. was created to protect the Sunnis.”

With few other options, the Arabs have returned to an old idea, which was mostly bluster in the past–that they must unite to protect themselves. And any serious conversation about security and economic development has to include the one nation in the region that has succeeded at both: Israel. There is no love for the Israelis, but there is respect. And so there is a hope–a conversation that is occurring across the Arab states–that perhaps the only alternative is to bank on the regional forces of stability to create a security alliance against the extremist threat of both Shi’ite and Sunni militias. Even if that means partnering with Israel.

Strange Bedfellows
Is such an alliance even vaguely possible? History says no, vehemently. But in the days before Netanyahu’s government collapsed in December, Israeli intelligence sources–usually the most skeptical people in the country–were allowing tiny shreds of hope to creep into their calculations. The common security interests with the Arabs were compelling, several of them told me, and might lead to new arrangements in the region. It was not impossible that the Arabs could help broker a peace deal with the Palestinians. The Egyptians could help provide security; the Saudis and Gulf states could provide funds for Palestinian economic development.

For that to happen, though, Israel would need to make changes of its own. “These governments can’t be seen to be cooperating with Israel as long as there isn’t a deal with the Palestinians,” said one intelligence expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “ISIS can turn the Arab street, especially their young people, against them. It’s bad enough that [the U.S.] is dropping bombs on Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. That strengthens [ISIS] on the street as well.”

At the heart of this conundrum stands Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister may have been selling an alliance with the Arabs in New York, but he’s been selling intransigence back home. That includes a new law that would make Israel a “Jewish” state–with the implication of second-class citizenship for its 1.7 million Arab citizens. His insistence on pushing that law resulted in the collapse of his government, as moderate parties led by Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid refused to support the legislation.

Netanyahu is no longer very popular in Israel, but no one is betting against him in the March election. Given his political skills, the absence of a charismatic mainstream challenger and the steady tattoo of terrorist incidents–stabbings, shootings, cars running over pedestrians–most observers assume that Netanyahu will prevail somehow, though he might even struggle to maintain control of his Likud Party. The rising tide seems to be with the settler-movement leader Naftali Bennett, whose party might well outpoll Likud in March. It is also possible that the moderate-liberal coalition of the Labor Party and the splinter party of Livni’s supporters will challenge Likud for first place in the March election and the right to attempt to form a government of its own.

The real negotiations begin after the election. Netanyahu will try again to cobble together a centrist coalition. The big question is whether he will have to include Bennett in a government; if so, there will be no hope of Israel’s negotiating a deal with the Palestinians–and no hope of closer public ties with its Sunni Arab neighbors.

But there are other possibilities as well. If Labor-Livni polls strongly and is joined by Lapid’s centrist party, they may find a partner in Avigdor Lieberman. The Foreign Minister and leader of the Israel Beitenu party ran a crass, anti-Arab campaign last time. “But Lieberman plays a different game inside the government than he does outside,” says Shai Feldman, director of Brandeis University’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies. “As Foreign Minister, he’s had to deal with the leaders of other countries. He’s more of a realist now.” But he’s also less of a political force, as recent polls show support for his party waning dramatically because of renewed corruption charges against Lieberman. “It is absolutely impossible to predict how this election is going to turn out,” Feldman says.

The New Generation
Netanyahu has been at the center of Israeli politics for nearly 25 years. Abbas has been a force in Palestinian politics even longer. But a new generation of leaders is rising, which is why the Lieberman-Dahlan meeting in Paris was noteworthy, at the very least. One thing the two men have in common, despite their wildly divergent politics, is that both believe the Netanyahu-Abbas era is coming to a close.

Dahlan is perhaps the most skilled of the next generation of Palestinian leaders, although he developed a well-deserved reputation as a thug when he led the Palestinian security services in Gaza. He is a young-looking 53, a protégé of Yasser Arafat’s and a native Gazan. He’s also the sworn enemy of Abbas, who accused Dahlan of corruption and convicted him in a show trial; Dahlan has been living in Abu Dhabi since 2011. He has already announced that he will run for President of the PA against Abbas–who is supremely unpopular–should Abbas ever call the Palestinian election that has been long delayed. But Dahlan’s strategy is more expansive than a one-on-one fight with Abbas. His hope is to create a new coalition that would appeal to people across the Palestinian political spectrum, from Hamas to Fatah.

How could he manage that? By forming an alliance with a Palestinian leader currently sitting in an Israeli prison. Marwan Barghouti, 55, is considered a folk hero by both Hamas and Fatah. He was a prominent leader of the first and second intifadehs before he was arrested by the Israelis in 2002 and sentenced to five continuous life terms for murder. Barghouti’s wife has already announced her support for a movement to draft him for President. Dahlan’s vision is that Barghouti would be the titular head of the PA from inside prison and Dahlan himself would be the hands-on guy, running the show from Ramallah, while former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, widely considered Palestine’s most effective bureaucrat, would administer the West Bank.

Netanyahu has long lamented the fact that he doesn’t have a “strong” partner on the Palestinian side. Abbas has never had the support among his people to cut a deal, and his predecessor Arafat had little desire to do so. But a government led by Barghouti or Dahlan could hardly be considered weak, and a Barghouti-Dahlan coalition would be formidable. The question of what to do with Barghouti–whether to release him or not–has been discussed by Netanyahu’s inner circle. At this point, Barghouti’s political views are a mystery; he has been described as “Mandela-esque” and utterly unrepentant.

Dahlan has been meeting with Arab leaders across the region. He is close to Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and also to Egypt’s al-Sisi. His aspirations parallel Netanyahu’s: that the Arab states could be brought into the talks as intermediaries. Dahlan hopes the Arabs will nudge the Israelis to make concessions; Netanyahu hopes that the Arabs will nudge the Palestinians to make concessions. But the bottom line is the same: visions of commercial cooperation that transforms ports in Gaza and Haifa into Middle Eastern Singapores; visions of a security alliance strong enough to fend off Islamic radicalism, both Shi’ite and Sunni.

The only thing preventing all this is what usually gets in the way in the Middle East–reality. Here is what might also happen in 2015: Israel might elect a right-wing government that wants nothing to do with the Arabs. The West Bank may fall into chaos as the PA struggles without the funds necessary to keep its security forces in operation. The U.S. might make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. The U.S. might not make a nuclear deal with Iran, with unforeseen consequences for the region. King Abdullah might pass away in Saudi Arabia. The moderate Jordanian government might be overwhelmed by the tide of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees. Bashar Assad might fall, or survive, with consequences for the Kurds, the Turks and the Lebanese. Libyan militias might find common cause with ISIS. The rickety new government in Iraq might collapse.































しかし同様に別の可能性もある。もし労働党・リヴニ連合が選挙で健闘して、ラピドの中道政党に参加すれば、アヴィグドール・リーバーマンをパートナーにするかもしれない。外務大臣であり「イスラエルわが家(Israel Beitenu Party)」党首であるリーバーマンは、前回の選挙でひどい反アラブキャンペーンをおこなった。「しかしリーバーマンは、閣僚としては外部に対してとは違った動きをします」とブランダイズ大学の中東研究のためのクラウン・センター長シャイ・フェルドマンは言う。「外務大臣としてのリーバーマンは、他国の指導者達と交渉してこなければなりませんでした。今ではもっと現実的になっています」しかしまた政治的影響力がなくなってきているのは、リーバーマンに対する汚職問題批判が再燃し、最近の世論調査で支持率が急激に落ちているのを見てもわかる。「今回の選挙がどんな結果になるか予測するのは極めて難しいのです」とフェルドマンは言う。








His Time is Now
Hannah Beech
Jan. 8, 2015

Kei Nishikori is already the best tennis player Japan has ever produced. At the Australian Open, he’s setting his sights even higher
Kei Nishikori, the world’s No. 5 male tennis player, is dressed in a chicken suit. It’s yellow, fluffy and the tail wiggle-waggles when Nishikori lopes on court. Other tennis players wouldn’t be caught dead engaging in such fowl play. Roger Federer is too suave, Rafael Nadal too macho, and what the dour Andy­ Murray might say if you asked him to dress up as a chicken couldn’t be printed in a family magazine. But Japan’s top tennis pro, the only Asian man to have climbed so high in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) singles rankings, beams a genuine grin. The 10,000-strong crowd at this exhibition match in Tokyo, which nearly sold out in an hour thanks to Nishikori’s star power, cheers appreciatively. “I love chickens,” Nishikori says, giving his arms an experimental flap before heading out to please the audience at Ariake Coliseum. “Everyone loves chickens, don’t they?”

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The passion for poultry may not be quite as abundant as the 25-year-old Japanese tennis phenom imagines. But in a sport craving new champions—not to mention a continent yearning for male athletic icons—who doesn’t love Kei Nishikori? Last year served as a breakout for Nishikori, who won four tournaments and reached the final of the U.S. Open, the first time an Asian man has made it that far in a Grand Slam in ATP history. In the U.S. Open semifinals, he felled a giant of the game, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and in a year-ender tournament dispatched Murray as well. Nishikori, who is gearing up for the Australian Open that starts on Jan. 19 in Melbourne, is currently the only Asian player, male or female, in the game’s top 20. “Kei is one of the few players that I’d pay money to see play,” says Andre Agassi, who participated in the November exhibition match in Tokyo. “He’s one of the greatest shotmakers in the game, so I don’t see why he can’t proceed further [up the rankings].”

Off court, Nishikori’s stock has soared even higher. Though Nishikori started off 2014 ranked 17th in the world, he had already scored the kind of advertising deals normally reserved for the most elite players. From June 2013 to June 2014, Nishikori earned $9 million off court, according to Forbes, thanks to contracts from the likes of Tag Heuer, Uniqlo, Delta Airlines and Nissin, the instant-noodle purveyor that dressed him in a chicken suit. Now that he ranks in the top five, the Japanese ace boasts a Nissin cup noodle emblazoned with his face and his own limited-edition car, an orange F-Type Jaguar that costs at least $89,000 and is decorated with his autograph. Two dozen Japanese journalists cover nothing but the Kei Nishikori beat.

Sports are where national character takes the field. It’s an inexact science, of course. Not all Brazilian footballers dance across the pitch, and not all Chinese gymnasts tumble with robotic precision. And for all the adulation Nishikori receives at home, his success is rooted in a rejection of his homeland: as a teenager he left ordered, collectivist Japan to discover his individual talent in the U.S. Westerners may consider Nishikori—at 178 cm he is the second shortest player in the top 10 after Spaniard David Ferrer—deeply Japanese, with his tactical precision and boundless discipline. Nishikori’s fleet footwork and potent shotmaking also compensate for his underwhelming serve.

But many Japanese don’t consider Nishikori completely Japanese anymore: his aggressive prowling of the baseline and his leaping forehand aren’t products of Japanese-style tennis, which tends to favor skill and finesse over power and brio. “Culturally, maybe Asians don’t tend to have as much confidence as Americans do,” says Nishikori. “I’m Japanese, of course, but spending so long in America has made me into a different kind of person.”

The fact that Nishikori’s game was shaped overseas raises an uncomfortable question about Japan: Why have so many of the nation’s most accomplished citizens had to leave home in order to thrive? From writer Haruki Murakami, who spends part of the year abroad, to fashion designers Kenzo Takada, Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, each of whom has worked in Paris, to conductor Seiji Ozawa, who led orchestras in Boston and Vienna, domestic abandonment can seem a prerequisite to innovation. It’s true that these prodigal sons have been welcomed back by Japanese fans. But is their society fundamentally too rigid to allow for creative ferment?

In a sports biography about his son, Nishikori’s father Kiyoshi explained why he allowed his 14-year-old boy to be shipped to Florida to train full time. “Japanese tennis players have not been very successful,” Kiyoshi said, “because their individualism is weak compared to overseas players.” Even today, Nishikori’s longtime agent, IMG tennis vice president Olivier van Lindonk, says he’s not sure his Japanese charge “totally gets it,” despite the years steeped in brash American society. “Japan’s such a respectful culture,” van Lindonk says. “But you don’t get ahead in tennis by bowing.”

The American Connection

In the early 2000s, Masaaki Morita, the younger brother of Sony founder Akio Morita, was contemplating retirement as a Sony executive and seeking a new challenge. A tennis fan, he knew that despite the sport’s popularity in Japan—some 3.7 million play for fun, and top local players can make a decent living on the domestic circuit—the highest a Japanese man had ever climbed in the ATP was Shuzo Matsuoka’s 46th place in the 1992 ranking. (Japanese women, like Kimiko Date-Krumm and Ai Sugiyama, have fared better, vaulting into the top 10.) Tennis mediocrity was hardly befitting of what was then the world’s second largest economy, so Masaaki Morita turned his attention—and cash—toward incubating a Japanese tennis champion. His formula for success, though, jarred the elders of the Japan Tennis Association (JTA): ship the best kids off to the U.S. to unlearn the hierarchical strictures of Japan. “I noticed that Japanese kids played a beautiful technical game at home but they couldn’t win overseas,” says Morita, who serves as an honorary president of the JTA. “My idea to send them abroad was considered surprising, but we had to try something different.”

Nishikori began playing tennis at age 5, after his father returned from a business trip to the U.S. with a kid’s racket. Tennis is notorious for its hard-driving parents, who live vicariously through their children. But Nishikori’s parents—Kiyoshi, an engineer, and Eri, a piano teacher—were hardly sports-obsessed, though they supported his passion. By 2001, Nishikori was Japan’s junior champion.

Then came decision time. Morita offered a scholarship to Nishikori to leave his hometown in western Shimane prefecture­—best known for tea ceremonies and ancient shrines—for the IMG Academy in Florida, which had produced Agassi and Maria Sharapova, among many other stars. Though it meant traveling more than 12,000 km to live in an unfamiliar culture, Nishikori had no doubts. “I knew immediately I wanted to go to Florida,” he says. “I would do anything for tennis.”

Project 45
nlike some other foreign prodigies in the famous tennis program, Nishikori hadn’t fled from the war-torn Balkans or an impoverished Siberian outpost. But that doesn’t mean he had it easy. He didn’t speak much English; he missed rice balls, miso soup and the grilled fish from his seaside hometown of Matsue. “He was such a shy, quiet kid,” says van Lindonk, who has known Nishikori since he arrived in the States. “He couldn’t communicate with anyone. It was supertough.”

Nishikori’s technical game impressed his coaches, but they systematically broke down the rest of his play. They pitted the slight, skinny boy against older, brawnier teenagers, to teach him that the Japanese respect for elders held no place on court. They made him play cheaters and didn’t intervene on his behalf. Other Japanese kids who got Morita scholarships folded under the pressure. Nishikori still remembers the loneliness of those first years. “I didn’t know how to express my opinions,” he says. “I was a bit afraid to say what I thought because I hadn’t yet been influenced by American culture.”

But he persevered and began to appreciate aspects of American life. In Japanese, every verbal exchange requires a quick appraisal of the other person’s social standing; different vocabulary is used to address each social stratum. “In English, you can more easily say what you want,” says Nishikori. “It’s so open and natural. I really appreciate that.” Nishikori also learned that his admiration for older, better players­—proper in Japan—could hold him back. “Even if I really respected them,” he says, “I had to learn to get angry and surpass these athletes in competition.”

Japan’s target for Nishikori was dubbed Project 45—as in one place better than Matsuoka’s No. 46 ranking. “To even say that you’re going to be better than Shuzo, that was controversial in Japan,” says van Lindonk. “It was like you’re trash-talking your elder.” By 2011, Nishikori had surpassed Matsuoka in the ATP ranking, but recurring injuries lost him many months of play. And he needed to build his mental strength as well. In 2008 in San Jose, Calif., Nishikori played Andy Roddick, the feisty American, who cursed him out on court. When asked about that match, which Roddick won, Nishikori blanches. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he says, his usual smile vanishing. “It’s a bit rude to discuss all that. I don’t want to say something bad about another player.”

The Great Asian Hope
in 2003, five asian men ranked in the ATP top 200. Today, there are 18, seven of whom are from Japan. One of their greatest inspirations—and the man who has coached Nishikori since early last year—is not an Asian national but an American one. In 1989, Michael Chang overcame leg cramps and the world’s then No. 1 Ivan Lendl to prevail at the French Open. At just 17 years of age, the Chinese American made history as the youngest man to capture a Grand Slam championship.

Asian women have succeeded in tennis, most recently with China’s Li Na reaching No. 2 in the world before retiring last year with two Grand Slam titles. But no ethnically Asian man has triumphed in a Grand Slam title since Chang’s upset win, leading to worries that their slighter physiques put them at an inherent disadvantage on court. “Asian men don’t get 30 aces given to them,” concedes van Lindonk, noting the rise of big-serve men in today’s tennis like Croatia’s Marin Cilic and Canada’s Milos Raonic.

But the tallest player isn’t necessarily the best player—he still needs to move quickly across the court and sharpen his shots. Federer, at 185 cm, is hardly a giant. “Tennis is the ultimate equalizer,” says Chang, who is 175 cm tall. “You know what, I won the French. I’m the wrong person to ask about how hard it is not to be a big guy. Sure, height gives you advantages but so does agility and smarts and defensive skills.”

Physique aside, the tribal politics of Asian tennis can hold back its players. In China, the most extreme example, provinces know their sports budgets depend on success in local tournaments, so they tend to prioritize domestic play over the international competition where stars are made. Even in Japan, where it’s not the state’s mission to develop athletes, a culture of deferring to seniority makes it hard for youngsters to break free.

Should players make it on the global stage, the pressure can be enormous. Before Nishikori was beaten in the U.S. Open final by the 198-cm Cilic, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that a Japanese victory would be “a historic event not only for Japan but for all of Asia.” Addressing reporters covering the U.N. General Assembly in New York City in September, shortly after the U.S. Open, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recounted how Nishikori had “pushed past the powerful players” at Flushing Meadows. Nishikori’s appearance in the U.S. Open final was the first Japanese accomplishment Abe listed in a long catalog of national milestones.

The last Japanese tennis star to shine so brightly was Jiro Sato, who was ranked No. 3 in the world in the early 1930s. Exhausted after defeating greats like Fred Perry and Sidney Wood, Sato was nevertheless instructed by Japanese tennis officials to participate in the Davis Cup and boarded a ship from Singapore to England in 1934. He never made it. Sato’s teammates found a suicide note in which he fretted that his ill health meant he would be able to do little to assist his countrymen in the tournament. “I ask them to do their best to uphold the honor of our country,” he wrote. “Though not present in body, I will be present in spirit.” Sato was 26 years old when he disappeared off the ship.

Playing the Part

living in the u.s. makes it easier for Nishikori to escape the spotlight—and pressure. “There are so many famous people in the U.S.,” says Chang. “Kei can just be a normal guy without much attention.” In Florida, Nishikori still lives near the IMG Academy campus and retains the same core team he has had for years—from his agent and co-coach to his Japanese trainer. But when he’s back in Japan, every 15-­minute increment in his day is planned. There are endorsement obligations, like donning a chicken costume or promoting a particular mattress brand. Nishikori is expected to spend entire days performing on Japanese TV shows, his face slathered with foundation and his hair tousled just so. “I love Japan and it’s my home,” says Nishikori, “but I can’t really relax here.”

Still, the Japanese tennis ace isn’t so foreign that he doesn’t appreciate an Asian penchant for silly dress. When Nishikori emerges from the locker room in the chicken suit, van Lindonk, a lanky Dutchman, bounds toward him in alarm—no one told him about the costume change. Nissin has essentially bought Nishikori’s naming rights so when his surname appears in Japanese media it’s often accompanied by the instant-noodle brand. But van Lindonk’s distress turns out to be unwarranted. As his and Chang’s children gather around—tennis families tend to travel together—­Nishikori (Nissin Food) breaks into a funky-chicken dance. The other Japanese in the room cheer and clap and emit poultry noises. Van Lindonk returns, shaking his head. “That kid,” he says, “is totally Japanese.”

His Time Is Now


男子テニス世界ランク5位の錦織圭は、チキンの着ぐるみを着込んでいる。黄色くてフワフワのチキンは、錦織がコートを跳ね回るたびに尻尾を揺らす。他のテニス選手ならこんなチキンな動き(fowl play-foul play)は絶対に見せたくないだろう。ロジャー・フェデラーは上品過ぎるし、ラファエル・ナダルはマッチョ過ぎる。気難しいアンディー・マレーにチキンの格好をしてほしいと頼んだりしたら、きっと家庭向け雑誌には載せられない言葉を吐くだろう。しかしプロテニス選手協会(ATP)シングルス・ランキングでアジア人選手としては最高のランクに上った日本のトップ・テニスプロは、顔を輝かせて本気で喜んでいる。東京エキシビション・マッチのチケットは、錦織人気にあやかって1時間で売り切れになり、総勢1万人の観衆は大喜びで歓声を上げる。「チキン大好き!」と錦織は言って、有明コロシアムの観衆を喜ばせるために飛び出す前に試しにパタパタと腕を動かしてみせる。「誰だってチキンはすきでしょ!」」



inserted by FC2 system