Ai loves Kei and Kei loves Ai, if the tabloid photos don’t lie -- but is their passion undermining their performance on the court?
That’s what a gaggle of news hounds on hand at Narita airport to greet homecoming ping pong ace Ai Fukuhara wanted to know, says Sankei Sports (Dec 3).
“Ai-chan,” 20, and tennis star Kei Nishikori, 18, had the good or bad luck, while strolling hand in hand in Tokyo’s Shinjuku, to be spotted by a photographer for the weekly magazine Friday. The resulting photo appeared in the magazine’s Nov 20 edition. The following week there they were again in the same magazine, this time sharing a deep kiss.
On Dec 2 Ai-chan, just back from a European tour, faced the 50-odd reporters waiting for her at Narita. She was very pale, Sankei Sports tells us, and walked with her head bowed -- but she did not, the newspaper declares pointedly, deny the love rumors that were uppermost in their minds.
They fired questions at her: “Is your relationship with Nishikori going well?” “Are you in touch with him?” “Are you going to spend Christmas together?”
Apparently abashed, she flinched a bit and seemed almost on the point of tears. She rallied sufficiently to say, “I apologize for causing trouble. I would like now to do my best to be able to improve my game.”
That’s the problem. Her game does need a little improving. Following the exposure in Friday, Fukuhara lost the quarterfinal match at the Germany Open, then lost three in a row at the Polish Open -- this even without the redoubtable participation of China. Were personal feelings sapping her concentration?
The romance, said to date from the Beijing Olympics, has the approval at least of Ai-chan’s dad. ”It does have its heartwarming aspects, doesn’t it?” says Takehiko Fukuhara, 66. “As long, that is,” he adds, “as it makes them better competitors.”
We’ll know soon enough; she is scheduled to grace the All Japan matches in Tokyo Jan 13-18.
Nishikori, meanwhile, is training in Florida for his appearance next month at the Australian Open. When he’ll be in Japan next is anyone’s guess. Not for Christmas, apparently. Sankei Sports wishes them a happy “long-distance love rally.”© Japan Today