Shintaro Mochizuki has enjoyed the best tournament of his career at the Kinoshita Group Japan Open Tennis Championships, where he will play Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals. The 20-year-old is trying to become the first Japanese champion at the tournament since Kei Nishikori in 2014.
His big run has helped the home favourite soar to 15th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Jeddah. Mochizuki has a chance the rest of the week to entrench himself in competition for a place at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
ATPTour.com looks at five things to know about the rising star.
1) Tokyo Breakthrough
Entering the week, Mochizuki had played in eight tour-level main draws, including an ATP Masters 1000 event in Miami in 2021 and Wimbledon this year. However, he had never won a tour-level match.
That all changed this week in Tokyo, where Mochizuki is into his first ATP Tour semi-final. By defeating Alexei Popyrin in the last eight, the home favourite became the first Japanese player to reach the semi-finals of the tournament since Kei Nishikori in 2018, and the lowest-ranked semi-finalist overall since World No. 479 Kelly Jones in 1986. Mochizuki is No. 215 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.
2) Federer Gave Him Key Advice
Mochizuki revealed two years ago that his idol, Roger Federer, provided critical advice for his career. The Japanese star recalled to ATPTour.com that Federer had followed his run to the 2019 Wimbledon boys' singles title and invited him to be a practice partner at that year's Nitto ATP Finals.
“He's my hero. At the Nitto ATP Finals, I was there as a hitting partner and I got to hit with him,” Mochizuki said. “It was a dream. In tennis he hits so easy, just relaxed when he's playing.
“Many people are just playing with the power and emotions, but he's just hitting balls so easy. He taught me that if you have any chances to play bigger events, just go for it.”
In addition to his Miami appearance in 2021, Mochizuki has played qualifying at Masters 1000 events on three other occasions.
3) Japanese Star Has Received A Santoro Comparison
Just before becoming a teen, Mochizuki began training at the IMG Academy in Florida, where the likes of another Japanese star, Nishikori, has long been based. Another product of the academy is former doubles World No. 1 Max Mirnyi, who made an interesting comment about Mochizuki's game.
Mirnyi compared Mochizuki's game to one of the craftiest players in recent history: Fabrice Santoro.
“Fabrice is a player who really utilised the power of the oncoming ball to him and also was very crafty with his hands,” Mirnyi said. “Just like Fabrice was fun to watch, Shintaro is one of them.
“He sees the court extremely in a different dimension. He uses the angles well, cuts them off well and likes to come into the net. He takes the ball early and he's got good feel with his hands.”
4) Baseball Among His Hobbies
Mochizuki considered quitting tennis aged nine to pursue baseball, which is one of his favourite sports outside of tennis. The Japanese player has long loved playing and watching baseball when he can, but never pursued playing the sport professionally. His favourite team is the New York Yankees.
Earlier this year, Mochizuki explained that countrymen Shohei Ohtani and Yu Darvish, Major League Baseball stars, are his favourite players.
“I've never met them, but I think they're super strict with nutrition, fitness, everything they do is amazing,” Mochizuki said. “I think that's why they're playing at that level. I learn a lot of things from baseball players. Those guys always have a purpose to work, to practise, to go to the gym, to sleep, also their recovery is very important.”
Other hobbies for Mochizuki include hanging out with friends, watching YouTube videos, listening to Japanese music and singing for fun.
5) He Is A Former Junior World No. 1
Mochizuki showed his talent from a young age, having first held a tennis racquet aged one. He ascended to the top of the junior rankings just one month after his 16th birthday, following his triumph at the 2019 Wimbledon boys' singles event.
The Japanese player also defeated Carlos Alcaraz when they were juniors. Born less than a month apart in 2003, they competed against one another at the 2017 ITF World Junior Tennis Finals, where Mochizuki emerged victorious 6-2, 6-3. He also made the Roland Garros boys' singles semi-finals in 2019.