Tokyo: Japan`s Kei Nishikori was given a hero`s welcome by over 200 fans when he arrived in Tokyo on Saturday after becoming the first Asian man to reach a grand slam final at the US Open.
The 24-year-old`s dream of claiming the holy grail of a first major title came to a shuddering halt in a 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 thrashing by Serbian giant Marin Cilic in last Monday`s final in New York.
But a defiant Nishikori, who has risen to eighth in the world after his swashbuckling run at the year`s last slam, insisted he could push on and threaten the top of the men`s rankings.
"It was obviously hugely frustrating to lose the final," Nishikori told a news conference at Narita airport after being mobbed by fans and being presented with a bouquet of flowers.
"But in terms of my tennis career I`ve taken a very important step. It feels like I`ve moved a little bit closer to realising my dream of becoming the world number one."
Nishikori, who stunned current world number one Novak Djokovic in the US Open semi-finals and sparked tennis fever across Japan despite the time difference added: "This is the most amazing welcome I`ve ever had."
Already a superstar in Japan, Nishikori stopped to sign autographs and pose for photographs after arriving back in Asia for appearances at the Malasyia Open and the Japan Open.
"To have so many well-wishers come out like this is really gratifying and really underlines the scale of what I did. It doesn`t guarantee I will win a grand slam -- and it`s too late this year now of course -- but I`ll train hard to get there."
Nishikori, whose career has been blighted by injuries, almost pulled out of the US Open after developing a cyst on his toe and with little time to get ready managed to overcome three top-10 players in New York, two of them in five-setters.
"Getting through those tough matches and beat three players in the top 10 is the stuff I can draw confidence from," he said. "Important I gained the confidence that I could deal with the physical demands and still play my style of tennis.
"The goal now will be for me to win a major next year for sure."