The ultimate goal for a professional tennis player, male or female, is to win a Grand Slam event.
Kei Nishikori, the world’s sixth-ranked player, is no exception.
But the Olympics is a different animal, and provides a special motivation, Nishikori said.
Speaking at a news conference at Tokyo’s National Training Center on Wednesday, Nishikori, a two-time Olympian, told reporters he’s as motivated about heading to Rio de Janeiro for his third straight Olympics as he is when he competes at a big professional tournament.
Nishikori, 26, said there is a clear-cut difference between representing your country on the Olympic stage and playing in a professional tournament, calling it an “indescribable weight.”
“When you get in the Olympics, it gives you different feelings because you carry your country on your back,” Nishikori said. “So hopefully, I will bring some good news to my country.”
The Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, native said competing in the Olympics had always been his childhood dream.
“It’s one of the biggest sporting events, and I’ve wanted to be in it since I was little,” he said.
Nishikori realized that dream eight years ago, when he played in the 2008 Beijing Games. He was ranked 124th in the world back then and made a quick exit, losing in the first round of the men’s singles competition.
“I was so nervous and got stiff,” he recalled. “So it left a bitter taste in my mouth.”
Four years later, in London, Nishikori returned to the Olympics a much better player and advanced to the quarterfinals.
“In part because it was at Wimbledon (where I’ve played) and it was my second time, I could play my game,” he said. “In fact, I played nearly perfectly in some of the games.”
For his third Olympics, Nishikori, who is working to recover from a left-side rib injury sustained at Wimbledon earlier this month that forced him to retire from his fourth-round match against Marin Cilic, hopes to win something he can put around his neck.
“I’m looking forward to this Olympics,” he said. “I’d like to shoot for a medal.”
If Nishikori captures a medal in Rio, he’d be the first Japanese to do so in 96 years. Ichiya Kumagai earned the silver medal in the men’s singles and he and Seiichiro Kashio won silver in the men’s doubles in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics.
Nishikori also hopes to enjoy some of the Olympic experience off the tennis court, though he thinks it might be difficult.
“I’d like to be at the opening ceremony,” he said. “It’ll depend on my schedule, but I’d like to get a taste of the atmosphere because I always end up just playing tennis (at the Olympics).
“But at the Olympics, you have some rare chances to be at the athletes village, attend the opening ceremony and exchange with athletes of other sports. I think I could get inspired for my game through those opportunities.”
Nishikori added that he has kept in touch with sprinter Yoshihide Kiryu, to whom he has given some mental advice.
Nishikori smiled and said he wants to see the track star break the 10-second barrier in the 100-meter dash, which would make him the first Japanese to achieve that feat.
“The 100 meter race is the one that makes people most excited,” he said. “And (Kiryu) has enough talent to do it. I’d definitely like to see him do it.”