Kei Nishikori wins the first medal for Japan in tennis in nearly 100 years. The last time the country won a medal in tennis was Ichiya Kumagai in the 1920 games in Antwerp, Belgium. Photo credit: TheGonza, Wikimedia commons.
The 26-year-old tennis player beat Spain’s Rafael Nadal in finals bronze medal match on Sunday. Nishikori won the first set, 6 – 2, when Nadal made a comeback in the second set, 6 – 7, Nishikori came back strong to finish the game at 6 – 3.
“I didn’t know what to do from 5-2, I got a bit tired, and he started playing better. For sure I was rushing to win in the last couple of points,” Nishikori said in a post-game interview. “I tried to refresh my mind in the third set. I knew that I wasn’t stepping in. As soon as I got the break, I started to play aggressive, and I played with confidence.”
Nadal was the favourite to win this match, since he won the gold medal in this category in the Beijing 2008 games. He won’t be leaving Rio empty-handed, he won gold in men’s tennis doubles with his teammate, Marc Lopez.
Currently Nishikori is ranked seventh in the world by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) and the first Japanese male to be ranked in ATP’s top 10 tennis players in the world. Nadal is ranked fifth in the world. The two players have competed professionally 11 times in the past. This is the second time Nishikori has defeated Nadal, the first being at the ATP World Tour Masters in Canada last year.
Andy Murray from Great Britain, who defeated Nishikori in the semi-finals took home the gold medal. Taking home the silver medal was Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro. Martin del Potro caught the world’s eye when he defeated Nadal in the semi-finals, despite being ranked 141th in the world.
Nishikori’s win does not come without controversy. Between the second and third set of the game, Nishikori took a 12 minute bathroom break. Nadal criticized in a post-match interview, that a break that long took away his momentum in the game.
Nadal is also recovering from a wrist injury that had him out of the game for the past three months, since the French Open. In a post-game interview he says, “the wrist needs a little bit more time to be 100 per cent recovered. But it is only one time every four years, the experience in an Olympic Games is something unforgettable.”
Nadal may have his opportunity to play against Nishikori again as the two of them – and gold medalist Murray – head to Ohio to compete in the Cincinnati Masters, which started on Sunday.
This was Japan’s 29th medal. The country is currently ranked 10th in the medal standings, with seven gold medals, four silver medals and 18 bronze medals. Canada is currently 17th, with three gold, two silver and nine bronze.