Japan’s Kei Nishikori returns a shot to Russia’s Andrey Rublev during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 25, 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

Japan’s Kei Nishikori pledged to win as many matches as possible at the Tokyo Olympics to brighten the sombre mood in a city under a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus infections.

Nishikori, a 2016 bronze medallist in Rio de Janeiro, eliminated fifth seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 6-4 to reach the second round of the men’s singles on Sunday.

The former world number four has battled a succession of injuries to his wrist, elbow and shoulder in recent years, but produced a vintage display to beat the talented Rublev.

“I was really playing great. It’s been a while since I played like this and beat a top-10 player, I think it’s been two years already,” said Nishikori.

“I was a little worried that I’d get nervous on the court, but I wasn’t so that’s a good sign, especially in the first match. I’m really happy with the way I played today.”

Nishikori, whose ranking has dropped to 69, will play Marcos Giron of the United States in round two.

After ending Japan’s 96-year wait for an Olympic tennis medal in Brazil, Nishikori is hoping to challenge for gold at home along with women’s favourite Naomi Osaka.

“This is something I dreamed of when I was little,” he said.

“I think especially now with the Covid situation, if I can win as many (matches) as I can I think that brings better news, and that’s something I’m trying to do this week.”

The 2014 US Open runner-up is appearing at his fourth Olympics, although strict health rules due to the Covid-19 pandemic mean fans are barred from most venues.

“Of course, if there are fans and spectators I will enjoy it much more, but it is what it is. I have to focus on what I have to do and not to think too much on the court,” said Nishikori.

He made his Olympic debut as a teenager in Beijing, losing in the first round. He then reached the quarter-finals in 2012 and beat Rafael Nadal in the bronze medal match five years ago.

“Experience helps a lot. At my first Olympics I was really nervous and I have a bad memory of it. But since then, I think I got more experienced, I got strong mentally, and I’m playing good.”

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