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Japanese Joy: Home Hopes Make History In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Japanese Joy: Home Hopes Make History In Tokyo

Daniel earns big win against Coric

When Taro Daniel finished off a final-set tie-break upset of second seed Borna Coric on Tuesday afternoon at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, it was more than just a victory for Daniel. It was a big win for Japanese tennis.

That’s because Daniel was the fourth Japanese player to reach the second round in Tokyo year, joining Yoshihito Nishioka, Go Soeda and Yasutaka Uchiyama. It is the first time at least four players have made it through the first round here since 2003.

What’s more impressive is that 16 years ago, this event featured a 48-player draw. There are only 32 competitors in the singles field now.

“It’s impressive. Taro Daniel made an impressive win against Coric. Go Soeda beat Struff in the first round,” said World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who plays 35-year-old wild card Soeda in the second round. “Playing at home is always extra motivation, so I’m sure that all the Japanese players feel inspired to play their best tennis. That’s something that I’m expecting from Soeda tomorrow.”

It isn’t as if this Japanese quartet is operating in silos, either. They have been out watching each other play when possible, and eagerly waited to celebrate one another’s victories.

“You’ve got to try to keep a healthy competition instead of jealousy. There are times I do feel a little frightened that they’re going to pass me [in the ATP Rankings], but in the end it’s for the greater good of the sport in the country,” said Daniel, who is the No. 3 Japanese player, behind Kei Nishikori and Nishioka. “It’s a very positive thing and I think we all get along really well… I’m really glad that we’re all doing well this week.

“I like that [we can watch each other] because I don’t think in other sports you can’t really go watch other people’s matches on the court or on the stadium. In tennis you can do that, you can learn from the matches you’re watching and also support people that are closer to you. That’s pretty cool.”

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The camaraderie is not something that has gone unnoticed by Tournament Director Nao Kawatei, who has seen the home favourites congratulating each other outside the locker room over the past couple of days.

“This is actually a team,” Kawatei said. “Even when Daniel and Uchiyama came back to the locker room, these Japanese guys were waiting to celebrate each other winning. So they’re working as a very good team.”

Kei Nishikori, the top-ranked Japanese player, was unable to compete at Ariake Tennis Park this year due to injury, but his countrymen have thrilled the home fans nonetheless. After each point Daniel won towards the end of his third set, especially in the tie-break, the Colosseum vibrated from fans’ reactions.

“We haven’t really been in the spotlight the last years because we haven’t been Top 50, Top 100. We’ve been in the 100s and 150s. Now we’re finally able to win matches in [an ATP] 500 tournament,” Daniel said of Japanese players outside of Nishikori. “I think these guys are totally capable of making Top 100 and going pretty far in [ATP] 250s and some [ATP] 500s. So now the [fans] are like, ‘It’s not only Kei’. Obviously Kei’s still the big star, but we can count on some other guys for Davis Cup and ATP Cup, too.”

You May Also Like: Daniel Stuns Coric In Final-Set Tie-Break In Tokyo

Kawatei was happy to see players from this country find a way through to the second round. But it’s not something he is stunned by.

“I know how much they’re working very hard, these four Japanese players. It was very unfortunate that [Yuichi] Sugita couldn’t make it, but I know all of them… they’re really working so hard,” Kawatei said. “As a result, it is very good. But it’s not a huge surprise, because I know they have the ability to do that.”

Djokovic expects the crowd to urge on Soeda and for the Japanese to benefit from that energy. The top seed acknowledged that the homegrown success has been nothing but good for the event, Japanese tennis and the fans.

“For the tournament, obviously it’s very positive to have a representation of Japanese players in the tournament, round to round. The deeper they go, the better it is for the tournament, the better it is for the fans, for sponsors, for anybody,” Djokovic said. “I see only positives there.”

These four players now have another opportunity to make the most of competing at home. And there is no doubt that the Tokyo faithful will be behind them every step of the way.

“For the Japanese, playing at the Rakuten Japan Open is very special,” Kawatei said before reflecting on the fans’ support for their home hopes. “These are true tennis fans. They are keen to support these Japanese guys, so I’m sure the [players] have loads of confidence and feel the support and full backup from the spectators.”

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London Doubles Hopefuls Experience Mixed Fortunes In Beijing, Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

London Doubles Hopefuls Experience Mixed Fortunes In Beijing, Tokyo

Top eight doubles teams will qualify for Nitto ATP Finals

Ivan Dodig/Filip Polasek earned the doubles upset of the day on Monday at the China Open in Beijing. The Croatian/Slovakian team knocked out third seeds and Nitto ATP Finals hopefuls Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus 6-1, 5-7, 10-5 to advance at the ATP 500 event.

Dodig/Polasek, with 1,960 points, are currently in 12th place in the ATP Doubles Race To London, 660 points behind eighth-placed Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury (2,570). The top eight teams at the end of the regular season will qualify for the prestigious championships, to be held 10-17 November at The O2 in London. Klaasen/Venus are in fifth place in the Race, with 3,370 points.

Second seeds Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo rolled past Brits Kyle Edmund/Daniel Evans 6-4, 6-3. Kubot/Melo are second in the Race (3,445 points) and are looking to qualify for a third straight season.

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John Isner/Alexander Zverev squeezed past fourth seeds Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies, the reigning Roland Garros champions, 4-6, 7-5, 10-7. Krawietz/Mies are seeking their maiden showing in London and are in fourth place in the Race, with 3,375 points.

In other action, Chinese wild cards Mao-Xin Gong/Ze Zhang knocked out two-time Nitto ATP Finals champions Henri Kontinen/John Peers 4-6, 6-4, 10-7, and Russians Karen Khachanov/Andrey Rublev dismissed Felix Auger-Aliassime/Matteo Berrettini 6-7(2), 6-2, 10-8. Kontinen/Peers are in seventh place in the Race (2,820).

Top Seeds Fall In Tokyo
Croatians Nikola Mektic/Franko Skugor knocked out top seeds Marcel Granollers/Horacio Zeballos 6-4, 7-6(3) at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships in Tokyo. Granollers/Zeballos, US Open finalists, are in 10th place in the Race, with 2,200 points, 370 points behind eighth-placed Ram/Salisbury.

But second seeds Nicolas Mahut/Edouard Roger-Vasselin restored order with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Hubert Hurkacz/Benoit Paire, and third seeds Ram/Salisbury bolstered their London chances, beating Marcus Daniell/Philipp Oswald 3-6, 7-6(4), 10-7.

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Murray: 'Things Are Going In The Right Direction'

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Murray: ‘Things Are Going In The Right Direction’

Scot encouraged by straight-sets win against No. 13 Berrettini

Andy Murray isn’t sure if he’s back to a Top 20 level, but the former World No. 1 admitted his comeback took another massive step on Tuesday at the China Open in Beijing.

The Scot earned his biggest win since undergoing a second hip surgery on 28 January, beating World No. 13 Matteo Berrettini 7-6(2), 7-6(7) to make the second round at the ATP 500.

I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty clean,” Murray said. “Things are going in the right direction.”

It is Murray’s biggest win by ATP Ranking since more than 12 months ago, when, in September 2018, he beat No. 11 David Goffin at the Shenzhen Open.

The difference, however, is that last year Murray still felt pain daily in his right hip. This year, as he reminded everyone again on Tuesday, he is still pain-free. “Zero pain in my hip,” he said with a smirk.

You May Also Like: Read & Watch: Murray Takes Big Step In Beijing

Murray began his comeback in August at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, falling to Richard Gasquet in straight sets. He looked tentative and rusty.

I felt a bit out of place. I didn’t really feel like I was playing at a great level,” he said in Beijing.

Murray played another match at the Winston-Salem Open before playing three more at an ATP Challenger Tour event in Mallorca.

It wasn’t until last week, however, that Murray began showing glimpses of his former level, avenging his Winston-Salem loss to Tennys Sandgren and taking the opening set against eventual Zhuhai champion Alex de Minaur.

Last week was a really big step for me in terms of how I felt and how I played in the matches,” Murray said. “Although I lost in the second round, I felt like I was playing tour-level tennis. I was competitive. I was in the match, even the one that I lost. Whereas I didn’t feel that in the States. I didn’t feel I was in the matches or playing great tennis.”

He ratcheted up his level against Berrettini, coming forward to finish points and chasing down drop shots that he, out of bad habit, was letting go in Cincinnati.

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In terms of the way that I’m moving now, in comparison to a couple of months ago, just my level of confidence in that is much, much higher than what it was a few months ago,” he said.

But Murray, whose ranking has dipped to No. 503, tempered the bubbling enthusiasm surrounding his win against Berrettini, who is in eighth place in the ATP Race To London and made the US Open semi-finals (l. to Nadal) last month.

The Briton, who is 2-3 in his comeback, hasn’t felt great after matches and is still adjusting to playing two to three matches in a week. Another test looms on Wednesday against countryman Cameron Norrie.

Now I just need to try and get the matches, get them consistently, so that I’m used to playing three, four matches in a week,” Murray said.

Right now, at this level, I don’t know if I’m ready to do that or not. So the more I can get through these sort of matches like I did today, I’ll get there a little bit quicker.”

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Shapovalov Superb Against Kecmanovic In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Shapovalov Superb Against Kecmanovic In Tokyo

Canadian continues recent run of form

Canadian Denis Shapovalov carried momentum into his first-round match at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships Tuesday evening against fellow #NextGenATP player Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia. It showed on Colosseum, as Shapovalov defeated Kecmanovic 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 22 minutes.

“[I’m] definitely very happy. Obviously playing Miomir, I knew it was going to be a tough match. I played him a lot of times in juniors and in pros, so I knew what a grind and what a battle it was going to be, so I’m really happy to get through,” said Shapovalov, who reached the semi-finals in Chengdu last week. “It was definitely a tough first-round match. Arriving late here, not much time to practise, but I felt good, I was serving good and hopefully that continues.”

Shapovalov hit 16 aces and saved all five break points he faced against the World No. 51, breaking once per set to advance to the second round in Tokyo for the second consecutive year. It was another strong performance in a city where last year, he defeated former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka. Although Shapovalov is only 20, the Japanese fans support him as if they’ve been cheering for him for more than a decade.

“It’s amazing. I feel like the vibe, the fans are always with me here from the first time I came here. Two years ago I didn’t play the tournament, but I was practising and there were so many fans coming to watch me and support me,” Shapovalov said. “I feel like every year my fanbase just grows bigger and bigger here. So it’s really an honour. I feel like they’re such nice fans as well, they’re really respectful.”

Kecmanovic will have been motivated after Shapovalov defeated him 6-2, 6-3 in August at the Winston-Salem Open. But the Canadian never gave the youngest player in the Tokyo field an edge.

The 20-year-old Shapovalov will next face 2017 champion David Goffin or last week’s Chengdu winner, Pablo Carreno Busta, for a spot in the quarter-finals. Both players have cracked the Top 10 in the ATP Rankings over the course of their career.

Did You Know
Shapovalov has already made three ATP Masters 1000 semi-finals, and one in three consecutive years. This season, the lefty made the last four in Miami.

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Daniel Stuns Coric In Final-Set Tie-Break In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Daniel Stuns Coric In Final-Set Tie-Break In Tokyo

Japanese player earns first Top 20 victory since March 2018

The odds were not in Taro Daniel’s favour when the Japanese player stepped onto Colosseum at Ariake Tennis Park on Tuesday in Tokyo. The 26-year-old had never won a match at this tournament, nor had he won a main draw match at an event above the ATP 250-level since February.

But Daniel rose to the occasion with the Japanese fans fully behind him, upsetting second seed Borna Coric 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(5) to reach the second round of the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.

“I knew the opponent was going to be more nervous than me. Obviously he’s like, ‘I have to win, he’s a wild card,’” Daniel said. “I was just like, ‘Keep going, try and not be passive, not be too aggressive, but just try and find that balance, not make any mistakes.’ He ended up making more mistakes than I did.”

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Daniel had not earned a victory against an opponent inside the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings since defeating Novak Djokovic at last year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. But the World No. 127 withstood 15 Coric aces and saved four of the six break points he faced in his two-hour, 39-minute victory.

The 26-year-old, who went ahead by a mini-break on the first point of the tie-break, fell behind 2/3. But that was the last time that Daniel trailed in the match.

In the next round, the home hope will play Aussie Jordan Thompson, who battled past Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 after one hour and 58 minutes. This is Thompson’s Tokyo debut.

The Aussie defeated Daniel 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-0 this year in Sydney in the pair’s only previous FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting.

Did You Know?
Daniel’s victory makes four Japanese players in the second round in Tokyo, the first time that has happened since 2003.

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Thiem Leads London Contenders Tsitsipas, Fognini Into Beijing Second Round

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Thiem Leads London Contenders Tsitsipas, Fognini Into Beijing Second Round

Tsitsipas, Monfils made to work hard

Dominic Thiem recorded his first victory over Richard Gasquet on Tuesday at the China Open to step up his bid for a place at the Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth successive year.

The top-seeded Austrian was on-form from the get-go, striking eight aces and losing just seven of his first-service points (32/39) in a 6-4, 6-1 victory over his Frenchman opponent in 82 minutes. Thiem had lost his two previous matches against Gasquet at the 2015 Swiss Indoors Basel and the 2017 Erste Bank Open in Vienna.

“I was ready from the first point on, as I have had a lot of trouble from him in the past,” said Thiem, who will next face Chinese wild card Zhizhen Zhang. “I tried to avoid that today, I felt great from the first practice and it’s great to get my first win in Beijing. It’s one of the strongest tournaments, you can lose every match, but I was very good today.”

Should Thiem, who is next in line to qualify for the season finale, advance to this week’s final in Beijing he will confirm his place at The O2 in London from 10-17 November. So far this season, the 26-year-old has lifted silverware at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (d. Federer), the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Medvedev) and the Generali Open in Kitzbuhel (d. Ramos-Vinolas).

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Elsewhere, third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who is currently in sixth position in the 2019 ATP Race To London, battled back from an 0-2 deficit in the third set to beat this year’s Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag champion Dusan Lajovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours.

The 21-year-old Tsitsipas is now 39-20 on the season that includes titles at the Open 13 Provence in Marseille (d. Kukushkin) and the Millennium Estoril Open (d. Cuevas). He will now play Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili, who was a 6-4, 7-6(3) victor over Guido Pella of Argentina in one hour and 42 minutes.

Sixth seed Fabio Fognini, winner of his first ATP Masters 1000 crown at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters in April, came through a nail-biting win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in two-and-a-half hours. Fognini led 6/1 in the deciding set tie-break before closing out a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(6) victory on his sixth match point. He will now prepare to challenge Russian Andrey Rublev, who denied Grigor Dimitrov the 300th match win of his career on Monday.

You May Also Like: Read & Watch: Murray Takes Big Step In Beijing

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Dream Debut: Djokovic Dominant In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Dream Debut: Djokovic Dominant In Tokyo

Serbian star set to face Soeda in second round

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic made a victorious singles debut at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships on Tuesday, defeating #NextGenATP Aussie Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-2 to reach the second round in Tokyo.

“I thought from really the beginning to the end, I played really well and on a consistent, high level and [with] good intensity,” Djokovic said.

It was a positive sign from the ATP 500 tournament’s top seed, who was competing on the singles court for the first time since retiring during his fourth-round match against Stan Wawrinka at the US Open due to a shoulder injury. The Serbian took care of his serve well, going throughout the one-hour, 29-minute encounter without facing a break point.

“Shoulder is good. I have not felt anything in the previous days, including today, in the match,” Djokovic said. “So I am very pleased to say that and to feel healthy.”

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Although Popyrin had to qualify here, the 20-year-old was a dangerous opponent due to his powerful, aggressive game. At the US Open, Popyrin was a service hold away from pushing eventual semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini to a fifth set. He also defeated Dominic Thiem at this year’s Australian Open.

But Djokovic was solid throughout, striking seven aces and winning 44 per cent of his return points. The Serbian has advanced to at least the second round in all 12 tournaments he has played in this year.

“[I] had plenty of chances on his service games, also in the beginning of the first set. Played him for the first time, obviously. Young player with a big game from the back of the court, a big serve,” Djokovic said. “[I] managed to make that crucial break of serve in the first set at 4-4 that definitely helped me step it up even more. In the second set I ended up the match in a good fashion and I’m very pleased overall with the game.”

Monday was a historic one for Djokovic, marking his 271st week atop the ATP Rankings, passing Ivan Lendl (270) for third alll-time, trailing only Roger Federer (310) and Pete Sampras (286).

Djokovic will next face home favourite Go Soeda. The Japanese player had an 0-12 record in Tokyo main draws before defeating German Jan-Lennard Struff in his own tournament opener.

You May Also Like: Lucky 13: Soeda Shining In Tokyo

Did You Know?
Djokovic has won the title on his tournament main draw debut nine times previously, most recently in Eastbourne two years ago.

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Read & Watch: Murray Takes Big Step In Beijing

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Read & Watch: Murray Takes Big Step In Beijing

Nitto ATP Finals hopes Berrettini, Monfils fall

Andy Murray took another big step in the right direction on Tuesday at the China Open.

Eight months on from right hip surgery, the former World No. 1 battled past Nitto ATP Finals contender Matteo Berrettini 7-6(2), 7-6(7) in two hours and two minutes. Murray will next face compatriot Cameron Norrie in the second round.

“I feel like I’m hitting the ball pretty clean,” Murray said. “Things are going in the right direction.”

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Berrettini could not convert two set points at 6/5 and 7/6 in the second-set tie-break, when quick hands and fine volleying from Murray got him out of trouble. Berrettini had led 5-3 in the first set and 2-0 in the second set before Murray fought back en route to his highest-ranked victory since September 2018, when the Briton beat then World No. 11 David Goffin at the Shenzhen Open.

Berrettini, who has compiled a 29-8 record since 22 April, had been hoping to add valuable points in his bid to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 10-17 November.

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The 23-year-old, who is eighth in the 2019 ATP Race To London, joined fellow hope Gael Monfils—just 60 points behind the Italian in 10th position—as a first-round casualty.

Seventh seed Monfils, who competed at the season finale in 2016, suffered at the hands of American John Isner, who struck 22 aces, in a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 victory over two hours and eight minutes. Monfils had led by a set and 5/3 in the second-set tie-break.

Earlier in the day, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime got the better of Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-4 to set up a clash against second-seeded German Alexander Zverev, the defending champion at the Nitto ATP Finals, who sits 11th in the 2019 ATP Race To London.

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Andy Murray beats Matteo Berrettini at China Open

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Andy Murray impressively beat Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (9-7) at the China Open to set up a second round tie against fellow Briton Cameron Norrie.

Murray, 32, faced a tough test against world number 13 Berrettini, who reached last month’s US Open semi-finals.

The Scot came back from a break down in each set to claim his biggest win since returning from hip surgery in January.

Murray played at a high level, showing the battling qualities which are such a feature of his game.

He broke 23-year-old Berrettini, who was serving for the first set, before going on to dominate the tie-break.

Berrettini went 2-0 up in the second set but Murray again pegged him back to level and take the match following another tie-break.

Overall, Murray got 69% of his first serves in, winning 75% of those points and he also saved five out of seven break points.

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Lucky 13: Soeda Shining In Tokyo

  • Posted: Oct 01, 2019

Lucky 13: Soeda Shining In Tokyo

Japanese hoping 2020 brings greater confidence

The 13th time proved the charm for Go Soeda.

The former World No. 47 had lost all 12 of his main draw matches at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships entering his first-round clash with German Jan-Lennard Struff on Monday at Ariake Tennis Park. But finally, at age 35, Soeda found his Tokyo breakthrough.

“I didn’t think a lot about winning in the first set or the second set, but in the final set at 4-3, 5-3, I was thinking about winning and I got really tight,” Soeda said. “I’m really happy. I didn’t win this tournament in 18 years. I was playing since 2001, so I’m very happy to win for the first time here.”

In four of Soeda’s 12 opening-round losses here, the home favourite battled his way to a deciding set. But he was never able to find a way through. It wasn’t that Soeda had not enjoyed success on the ATP Tour — he made the semi-finals in Chennai and Atlanta in 2012 — but Soeda could never solve the Tokyo puzzle.

But the joy of victory was well worth the wait, especially considering he has his two-year-old son, Mito, with him at this ATP 500 event. Shortly after his triumph, Soeda was able to see him.

“After the match he said, ‘You are so cool!’” Soeda recalled. “So I’m really happy. I don’t know if he’ll remember or not, but it’s cool.

“It’s very special, very positive now. I can’t bring them every week, but this week especially is very special [to have my family here].”

This was Soeda’s first win at an ATP Tour tournament since 2015 Washington.

“It’s a long time, four years. But I’m very happy to win here. My Ranking isn’t so high, but I’m trying. [My] confidence was a little down, but I’m trying every year. Maybe coming next year, my confidence is coming back. I hope next year it’s the Top 100,” Soeda said. “Maybe I played too much in Challengers and then win or lose and then I’m thinking too much for four or five years. I need to change from now and hope next year to play 250 or 500s more and if I win, it’s very good… Now I’m feeling like Top 90, 80, so I’m hoping to get to the Top 100.”

Soeda could get a huge opportunity in the second round if he plays top seed Novak Djokovic. It would be his first meeting against a World No. 1. Ironically, Soeda is 0-12 against Top 10 opposition.

The highest-ranked player he has previously faced is World No. 2 Rafael Nadal, and that came in Tokyo eight years ago.

“I want to play him. I’ve never played against a World No. 1. So if I play him, I’ll be really happy. I’ll try my best like the Japanese rugby team,” Soeda said of his nation’s rugby team, which upset powerhouse Ireland on Sunday. “I’m really excited. That time I played Nadal, I was really nervous. Maybe next time, too, but I really enjoy to play [against the top players].”

It’s been a banner week for Japanese tennis, with four players from the country reaching the second round. One of them is Yasutaka Uchiyama, who defeated third seed Benoit Paire on Tuesday. He was excited to see Soeda have his moment in the hometown spotlight.

“I was happy, too, because he’s a great friend of mine. I celebrated with him after the match and I’m really happy,” Uchiyama said. “He was playing amazing. He was playing really good at the baseline. At the end of the match, I think he controlled the game.”

Even though Soeda is 35, he feels he has plenty of tennis left in him. And more than two hours after his victory on Monday, fans were still shouting from the top of the Colosseum down to the player area where Soeda was soaking in the moment with his loved ones.

“I really enjoy to play now, more than before,” Soeda said. “I’m feeling my technique is better than before because I think about tennis. I really enjoy it now.”

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