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Japanese Tennis Star Bags Second Major Win of 2003 (August 26, 2003)

Sugiyama Ai
Sugiyama Ai (Jiji)
Notch up another victory for Sugiyama Ai, the ace of Japanese women's tennis. In July 2003, Sugiyama and Kim Clijsters of Belgium won the women's doubles crown at Wimbledon, which was Sugiyama's first Wimbledon title. She also teamed with the Belgian to win the doubles at the French Open in June. Having won the women's doubles events in two out of the three major tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon) played so far this year, all eyes will now be on the duo's performance at the US Open from August 25 to September 7. Sugiyama's victory at Wimbledon was the third ever by a Japanese competitor and the first in 28 years, following Sawamatsu Kazuko in the 1975 women's doubles competition and Miki Tatsuyoshi in the 1934 mixed doubles. Combined with consecutive last-16 performances in the singles at both Wimbledon and the French Open, Sugiyama is steadily closing in on the world's tennis elite.

Mother and Coach
It has been a while since Japan has received good news about Sugiyama, who at 163 centimeters tall is relatively short for a tennis player. Her victories in the majors this year are her first since she won the women's doubles at the 2000 US Open and, prior to that, the mixed doubles at the 1999 US Open. Sugiyama was seen as the successor to former star Date Kimiko following Date's retirement, but found herself mired in a two-year slump that lasted through 2002. In 2003, however, her many years of experience competing around the world began to bear fruit as she started producing results to match her considerable talent. "By consistently doing what I'm able to do, it felt like an almost natural progression to the finals," she said recently, voicing her newfound composure.

The addition of Sugiyama's mother, Fusako, as her coach two-and-a-half years ago cannot be overlooked as part of the reason for the player's development. Fusako took it upon herself to study training methods and has supported her daughter by finding high-quality practice partners at tour stops, acting at times as a strict coach, and at other times as a gentle mother. Sugiyama has also been blessed with an ideal doubles partner in Kim Clijsters. The two are good friends even off the court: On the day before the Wimbledon finals, Clijsters gave her partner a bracelet as a present for her 28th birthday.

Closing In on the Top Ten
Sugiyama was the junior world number one at age 15 and won consecutive All Japan Tennis Championships in 1995 and 1996. Today, as a global competitor, she is the world's number-one doubles player according to the August 11 WTA Tour rankings - the first time she has held this rank since August 2001. She has also climbed all the way to a personal-best number 11 in the world singles rankings, just a step away from being the first Japanese tennis player since Date Kimiko to be ranked in the top ten. Sugiyama, well aware of where she sits, is brimming with desire: "This is the first time I've felt so close to the top ten. Breaking into it will be a new challenge."

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Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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