By Matt Birch
Tucson, Ariz.- After her team captured the USTA Eastern sectional title this August in Syracuse, New York, Chikako Hirao, now had a promise to keep to her teammates.
Hirao had been a member of the Rye Brook Proformers team, from Westchester, New York for about one year before she moved back to her native country of Japan in July. Before she left, she promised to come back and compete with the team if they made it to Nationals.
After nearly one full day of traveling, Hirao has flown from Tokyo to Tucson, Arizona where she has rejoined her team and is competing in this weekend’s 2010 USTA League 3.5 Adult National Championships at the Jim Reffkin Tennis Center.
"My teammates are wonderful," Hirao said. "They competed in some tough matches in sectionals and regionals, and I wanted to come back and cheer them up."
Hirao is originally from Tokyo, where she grew up playing golf. She moved to the United States in 2007, because of her husband’s job with a Japanese bank. After her move to New York, she began playing tennis daily, and eventually joined the Ryebrook Proformers team.
Hirao is not the only foreign born athlete on the Eastern team, as there are six total Japanese born players. Teammate Mary Flynn is from Ireland and Cristina Casati is a native of Milan, Italy and has lived in the United States for six years, while competing with Ryebrook for two years.
Team captain Amy Kauffman does not feel that the language barrier on her team is an issue.
"(The language barrier) is harder for our opponent," she said. "Our Japanese girls are like our secret weapon. They are very spirited, competitive and smart on and off the court. The team has really wanted to win, so that Chikako could come play with us again."
The team is coached by Rishan Kuruppu, who is from Sri Lanka but grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia. He is very proud of his team for making it to the National Championships and feels that "teamwork" and "commitment" are the two words which best define the team.
"This team works like a well tuned engine," Kuruppu said. "We have stuck together and that makes us successful. It was the team concept that brought us to this stage. This team has only been together for two years, and our progress is amazing."
Kuruppu also acknowledged how special it was for Hirao to rejoin the team to compete with them this weekend, after flying across the Pacific Ocean.
"She is extremely dedicated," he said. "She puts in a lot of effort and it is quite amazing to put that kind of commitment to this team."