Mclachlan Flying High Under Japanese Flag
When it came to making moves in his professional career, Ben Mclachlan was ready to go the distance -- literally. Mclachlan began 2017 as a 200-ranked doubles specialist, and as a New Zealander.
On Sunday, with Her Imperial Highness Princess Mako of Japan looking on, he lifted the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships 2017 doubles crown -- as a Japanese player.
So how does one go about playing for a different country almost overnight and, more importantly, why?
Mclachlan grew up in New Zealand, spent summers in Japan and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in the U.S. -- all by the age of 22. The doubles specialist claims ties to Japan through his mother, and possesses a Japanese passport.
"My dad was born in New Zealand; my mom was born in Japan," Mclachlan said. "I lived most of my life in New Zealand, but when I was younger, I'd come once a year to Japan to spend time with my grandmother."
The reason for the change in allegiance was a practical one: Tennis' popularity in Japan meant that between the added exposure and access to more advanced training facilities, Mclachlan stood to do better professionally as a Japanese player. Considering the support wasn’t there in New Zealand, the notion of playing for Japan, business decision or otherwise, proved too enticing to pass on.
"I decided to switch alliances from New Zealand to Japan as I felt it was best for my career as a doubles player,” Mclachlan said. Tennis isn't very big in New Zealand; I figured I could get more support in Japan. When I'm in Japan, I work out of an international training center."
Shortly after registering as a Japanese player, Mclachlan was selected to represent the country in Davis Cup play. That in itself produced an immediate, positive impact in Mclachlan's attitude and morale.
"In being selected for Japan in the Davis Cup a few weeks ago, I improved and learned to believe in myself," Mclachlan said. "It helped me with my confidence.”
Then comes his success in his freshly adopted country on Sunday. A wild card entrant, Mclachlan teamed with Yasutaka Uchiyama to defeat second-seeded Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares 6-4, 7-6(1) in one hour and 32 minutes for their first ATP World Tour team title, becoming the first all-Japanese titlists in Tokyo since 2005. This week also marked Mclachlan's first appearance in the main draw of an ATP World Tour tournament.
Though he's decided to play for Japan, the move hasn't required packing or any of the hassles associated with relocating nearly 6,000 miles. Mclachlan is still "based" out of Queenstown, New Zealand, and trains with his brother/coach Riki when he isn't on the road. While he's still getting to know his adopted country, Mclachlan hasn't cut all ties with his native New Zealand. Whether for training purposes or just for rest and recreation, Mclachlan spends the bulk of his time in his home country. Just the idea of playing for a country far from home but close to his heart is invigorating.
"Queenstown is home. I can relax there, "Mclachlan said. "It's more 'country' ... I have friends there and it's outdoors-y.
"But I like that Japan is still pretty fresh to me because I haven't really lived here, I've just come to visit. I like the food and I enjoy the culture. I don't have a regular doubles partner so when it comes to planning [which events to enter and where] I'm pretty flexible."
Flexibility is a proven trait of Mclachlan's on the court as well: This year alone, he's reached four doubles finals with three different partners. In June, he captured the ATP Challenger Tour title in Todi, Italy, with Steven De Waard, then reached the final at Cortina with the Australian a month later. Last month, Mclachlan teamed with Taiwan's Ti Chen to lift the Gwangju Challenger title in South Korea.
Though short, his collaboration with fellow Japanese player Uchiyama has been his most successful to date: "I feel like we haven't played too much together, but every match we played, we got stronger and stronger," Mclachlan said. "I look forward to playing with him again sometime."
The strong showings have also created interesting options that weren't available to him just a short time ago, such as competing in Grand Slams. Still, Mclachlan isn't looking too far ahead; instead he’s relishing what he considers the most memorable experience of his career.
"I thought I played really well this week in Tokyo," Mclachlan said. "I enjoyed the atmosphere and played with high energy. I haven't really thought about the end of the year yet because my ranking has jumped up a lot. There might be some other opportunities [of playing bigger tournaments] I didn't think were available before. Now, the Australian Open is a possibility and I'd like to play there."