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.”