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Nishioka earns Japan’s first men’s singles tennis gold at Asian Games in 40 years

by Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Yoshihito Nishioka cruised to a straight-sets victory over Lu Yen-hsun of Taiwan to claim the gold medal in the men’s singles tournament at the 17th Asian Games on Tuesday.

Nishioka, the fifth seed here, beat No. 1 seed Lu 6-2, 6-2 to become the first Japanese player in 40 years to win an Asian Games championship. Toshiro Sakai was the last to accomplish the feat at the 1974 Tehran Asian Games.

“I was aiming for the gold medal and through everyone’s support I could repay my gratitude,” Nishioka said after his victory. “I didn’t know (that it was the first time in 40 years). In Japan, tennis is becoming more and more popular, and hopefully this will make it even more a topic of conversation.”

With Kei Nishikori all the rage back in Japan after reaching the U.S. Open final earlier this month and winning the Malaysia Open for his third title of the season on Sunday, it seemed only fitting that another man from Japan whose name also begins with “Nishi” triumph in the regional Olympics for Asia.

“If even a little, I hope I can get closer to the way he plays,” Nishioka said when asked about his idol Nishikori. “I feel like I’ve moved a little closer to him. I’d like to play on the ATP tour more to get higher in rank and closer to where he is,” said Nishioka, whose first order of business is to be reach the top 150 in the ATP rankings.

Nishioka put Lu in a headlock with a break in the first game and only tightened his grip as the match progressed at Yeorumul Tennis Courts.

In the first set, Nishioka, who turned 19 on Saturday, had his serve broken at 5-1 and Lu held serve once before the Japanese regained command.

With baseline play reminiscent of the speedy world No. 7 Nishikori, Nishioka battled back from 0-40 for three deuces, facing his second break in the eighth game of the second set before serving out the match in 1 hour, 11 minutes.

“I knew that he was the higher ranked player but I went out there with the spirit of a challenger,” said Nishioka, who is ranked 168th in the world.

“I was a little surprised to get off to such a flying start and it helped me relax. I kept focused and took advantage when my opponent made some errors. I was glad I could win in straight sets,” he said.

Asked his thoughts on being called “Nishikori II,” Nishioka replied, “I am very happy to be compared to him but when he was my age, he was much higher ranked so I really have to fight harder to move up,” he said.

Earlier, China’s Wang Qiang held off Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) to win the gold in the women’s singles. Japan’s Eri Hozumi and Misa Eguchi, who lost to Luksika and Qiang, respectively, in the semifinals won bronze medals.