Sponsors latch on to increasingly bankable tennis star Kei Nishikori

Sponsors latch on to increasingly bankable tennis star Kei Nishikori

TOKYO - Kei Nishikori is becoming a force on the tennis court. And as the Japanese star climbs the international ranks, he is becoming a favourite of marketers as well.

After reaching the finals of the US Open last September, Nishikori cruised into the quarterfinals of the first big event of 2015: the Australian Open in Melbourne. The 25-year-old's run ended there -- he fell to Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland on Wednesday -- but his career appears to be headed in the right direction.

In November, Nishikori moved up from No. 7 to No. 5 on the Association of Tennis Professionals rankings. Following the retirement of China's Li Na, who at one point last year was the sport's second-ranked woman, Nishikori is the top-rated Asian in the game.

Time magazine put him on the cover of its Asian edition this month, and inside, eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi sang his praises. "Kei is one of the few players that I'd pay money to see play," Agassi was quoted as saying.

Speaking of money, Nishikori is racking up earnings in a sport where prize money continues to increase. Along with the four Grand Slams -- the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open -- the ATP organises numerous other tournaments throughout the year. For the first time, the total payout is expected to top US$100 million (S$135.4 million) in 2015.

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