Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on September 2009
The days when there were top tennis tournaments scattered throughout the calendar year in Tokyo have long gone. Now there are basically just two, and they’re played back-to-back. First up is the Toray Pan Pacific Open from September 25 to October 3, followed by the Rakuten Japan Open from October 3-11. And what Tokyo has lost in quantity is made up for in quality—both tournaments will see some of the top stars in tennis come to the capital. The Rakuten Japan Open is billing itself as the “most exciting nine days in Japan tennis,” but in reality there’ll be 17 consecutive days of top-level play. Start booking time off work now.
Toray Pan Pacific Open
The all-women’s Pan Pacific Open used to be held indoors at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in the week after the Australian Open. Now, it’s played at Ariake Colosseum and starts in sunny September, when the bite has gone out of the Japanese summer (although the wind can be a problem). This year’s PPO is part of the WTA’s Premier 5 tournaments and offers a staggering $2 million in prize money. The main draw has been increased to 56 players, with 16 pairs in the doubles tournament.
The expanded tournament has a sensational lineup, with 39 of the world’s Top 40 players heading to Tokyo. In a major coup for the organizers, both Williams sisters will be competing, and world No. 2 Serena, the Australian Open and Wimbledon champion, will most likely be seeded to meet her No. 3-ranked sibling Venus in the final. The opposition will also include French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Three Japanese players will get a free ride into the main draw: Ayumi Morita, who is now the country’s highest-ranked player (No. 66 in the world); Ai Sugiyama, who has dropped to No. 71; and Kimiko Date Krumm, Japan’s greatest ever women’s player, who is having another bash at professional tennis after having retired for 12 years.
The one player down the rankings who could cause a major upset is former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, currently ranked at No. 49 after returning to the WTA Tour in May following an injury layoff. The Russian is immensely popular in Japan and will no doubt be backed by a legion of local fans. She and the three Japanese players will all start from the first round, which kicks off on September 27 after two days of qualifiers, while the top seeds will get byes into the second round.
Rakuten Japan Open
The Japan Open always wanted to be the Wimbledon of the East, but the truth is that it’s a major men’s tournament with a minor women’s tournament attached. There will be 32 players in both the men’s and women’s competitions and 16 pairs in the doubles. Prize money for the men totals $1.23 million, while for the women’s tournament it’s just $100,000.
The Japan Open has always managed to attract top players, and this year will see the return of the man who is now officially the greatest player of all time: Roger Federer, whose awesome victory over American Andy Roddick at Wimbledon in July broke Pete Sampras’ record for major titles (15 and counting). Federer beat Tim Henman to win the Japan Open in 2006, but curiously his toughest match that year came in the quarterfinals, where he struggled to overcome Japan’s Takao Suzuki 4-6, 7-5, 7-6. Suzuki was ranked No. 1,078 in the world at the time.
Federer may be the world’s best tennis player, but as in golf, the opposition is constantly raising its standards. None more so than current world No. 2 Andy Murray of the UK, who has a good record against the Swiss superstar. World No. 3 Rafael Nadal won’t be along for the trip. The Spaniard was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon earlier this year due to chronic knee pain, although he did make it to the US Open in August. But Federer will also have to compete with two Frenchmen ranked in the world’s Top 10—Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 7) and Gilles Simon (No. 9)—as well as Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and Japan’s own tennis star, Kei Nishikori.
Toray Pan-Pacific Open
Sep 25-Oct 3, 10:30am. ¥4,000-¥6,000. Ariake Colosseum. Tel: 03-5229-0288.
Rakuten Japan Open
Oct 3-11, 10am. ¥4,000-¥8,000. Ariake Colosseum. Tel: 0570-06-9923.
Rakuten Japan Open