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2016年8月15日 (月)

Olympics: Nishikori beats Nadal for Japan's 1st tennis medal in 96 yrs

Olympics: Nishikori beats Nadal for Japan's 1st tennis medal in 96 yrs

Kei Nishikori, of Japan, smiles as he holds up his bronze medal in men's singles at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

    RIO DE JANEIRO (Kyodo) -- Kei Nishikori defeated Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-7(1), 6-3 to win bronze at the Rio Olympics on Sunday for Japan's first tennis medal in almost a century.

        World No. 7 Nishikori, as he's been known to do, did it the hard way in becoming the first Japanese tennis medalist since Ichiya Kumagai (silver) at the 1920 Games in Antwerp. The victory was only Nishikori's second against Beijing 2008 champion Nadal in 11 career meetings.

        Nishikori cruised through the first set and was well on his way to making quick work of Nadal. But from 5-2 down, Nadal showed the heart of a champion, winning five of the next six games to trigger a third set.

        Yet Nishikori, who lost in the quarterfinals four years ago in London, did well to regroup from the forgettable second set to win an exhausting 2 hour, 49 minute affair.

        "I'm exhausted but I pushed myself today," Nishikori said. "I lost the second set in a bad way, but I managed to come back in the final set. Rafa had beaten me a couple of times this season and I managed to shake that off."

    Japan's Kei Nishikori returns to Spain's Rafael Nadal during the bronze medal match of the men's tennis competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

        "I'm very happy to get a medal today. Even though it's third place, it means a lot to me to beat Rafa. I knew if I played good, solid tennis I had a chance to get a medal."

        "I was playing for my country and this is something different from the tour. For sure, this experience will help with my confidence and future."

        Nadal tipped his hat to Nishikori.

        "He played great during the whole match. During the whole match I was a little bit too tired," the Spaniard said. "If you don't play 100 percent tennis against a player like Kei, it's almost impossible. I want to congratulate Kei. I tried my best, I fought to the end."

        A day after being taken to school by Briton Andy Murray, Nishikori was far more competitive against a tired Nadal, who, counting the men's doubles he won with Marc Lopez, was playing in his 11th match at Rio.

        Fifth-ranked Nadal lost to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in a three-set semifinal on Saturday.

        Nishikori pounced on the second break-point opportunity he saw of the match to go up 3-2 in the first set. In Nadal's next service game, he shot himself in the foot with a double fault that set up another break point, which Nishikori promptly capitalized on.

        Nishikori aced his first set point to win 6-2.

        The resilient legs Nadal has used to build a distinguished career were nowhere to be found early in the second set, Nishikori winning his third break point in the third game.

        At 4-2 with Nadal serving, Nishikori converted a fourth break point to win the game. In the following game, Nadal finally broke his opponent on the fourth chance and converted another to even the score 5-5, thanks to a Nishikori double fault.

        With Nadal appearing to have found his second wind, the 14-time Grand Slam champion held serve after deuce to move in front. Nishikori won the next game, but the Japanese continued to self-destruct, managing just one point in the tiebreak as Nadal captured the set.

        Nishikori admitted he felt pressed being on the brink of winning the match.

        "I was uptight. He was starting to play better and that was half the reason. But I started to think about the medal, and was rushing my serves and shots," he said.

        Nadal got the crowd behind him with the comeback, and Nishikori drew the jeers after a lengthy bathroom break that seemed to irritate Nadal ahead of the final set.

        Nishikori won his fifth break point to lead 3-1, a critical game that Nadal could not find a way back from. Nishikori, determined not to suffer another meltdown, held on for Japan's 15th bronze medal of these Games.

        "I'm just glad I won today," he said. "I broke him first (in the last set) and that gave me a bit of breathing room. I went back to playing the aggressive tennis I played in the first set."

        "He was coming at me from the very first game. I had to work hard to keep my serve and I couldn't let him keep doing what he was doing. He made a few mistakes, I defended well and managed to break him. Remembering what he did to me in the previous set from 5-2, I tried to stay as focused as possible."

        "I feel like I've improved (from 2012), not only the result, but the performance, too. I'm playing with a lot more confidence compared to four years ago, when I was pretty happy just to have reached the quarterfinals. I don't know where I'll be in four years, but I hope to be better and stronger."

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