Japanese Tennis Player Akiko Morigami Talks with Stuart Larman

This weekend will see the finals of the Japan Open take place in Tokyo. The current Japanese number two fe­male tennis player Akiko Morigami will have the ex­pectation of home supporters weighing on her shoul­ders. Not that any perceived pressure would even come close to removing the glorious smile from her face.

Despite a career plagued by badly timed injuries, Morigami has battled on to achieve a number of sig­nificant results. The last couple of years she reached her first tour final (the Cincinnati Women’s Open) and top fifty ranking in 2005 before providing one of the shocks of this year’s French Open at Roland Garros (de­feating the world’s number three ranked player Patty Schnyder in the first round).

As Weekender finds out, despite the peaks and troughs of her career to date, Morigami remains an ex­tremely level person.

You debuted at an international tennis event at 15. What do you remember about that?

I remember being excited to play against players from all over the world. I had mostly played only in Japan, so I really wanted to test myself against players from other countries.

What were the biggest surprises for you?

On the court, I don’t get too nervous before and during the match. The first time I got to play on Centre Court at Wimbledon I thought I would be extremely nervous, but I wasn’t.

What were the big­gest challenges you faced when turning professional?

When I decided to turn pro at 18, I already had a lot of experience in the out­side world. I lived in the US for two years so I could understand and speak English pretty well. The only problem was on the court because I wasn’t winning so often!

It must be difficult when things are not going well on the court. What is the biggest motivational fac­tor for you when things are tough?

In 2005 I had some really good results and I felt I could play at a high level. Then some injuries happened at the end of the summer that hindered me for the rest of the year. So, my main motivation was to get my body healthy and strong so I would be able to play at the level I believe I can be at.

What level is that?

I would like to be among the top ten in the world. It would be great to win a Grand Slam too!