ATP Tour

Nishikori reigns in Japan

Kei Nishikori (AFP)
Kei Nishikori (AFP)

Tokyo - Kei Nishikori has won the Japan Open title for the second time in three years on Sunday, collapsing in joy on the court as he defeated Milos Raonic 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-4.

The surprise US Open finalist, who also claimed the Kuala Lumpur trophy a week ago, was in tears as he hugged his tennis star-turned-coach Michael Chang.

The victory in just over two hours sends Nishikori to fifth in the points race for November's ATP season final in London while Canadian Raonic holds onto the eighth and final spot.

"I hope to get to London. I am getting close, but there are two more Masters 1000s and 500s left," said Nishikori. "These next few weeks will be really important for me.

"Michael has raised my level. We have practised more on the court and also physical work. Beating a few Top 10 guys over the past year has helped my confidence."

Nishikori won the opening set in three-quarters of an hour and was broken in the seventh game of the second set as Raonic levelled a set each.

The local crowd-pleaser finally came though with his concluding break to earn the title.

The match was played under the closed roof of the Ariake Colosseum as rains from an approaching typhoon fell.

Nishikori has now beaten Raonic in three of four meetings this season, including at the US Open. The runner-up fired 22 aces and lost serve only once, in the final game of a long afternoon.

Nishikori added a fourth title to his 2014 honours list after also winning Memphis and Barcelona before Kuala Lumpur. He stands 49-10 this season.

"It's the first time I have won a title two weeks in a row. After the US Open, it was hard to maintain my motivation. I had to stay strong and focused, especially this week when I wasn't feeling 100 per cent."

The title came in front on Nishikori's home public during a 10 000-strong sellout and left Raonic wondering what he might have to do to win in the Japanese capital.

The Canadian has now lost the last three finals in the capital, going down to Juan Martin del Potro a year ago and to Nishikori in 2012.

"It is disappointing to lose in my third straight (Tokyo) final. To be honest with you, other than the first year (2012) I felt I created my opportunities," he said.

"Kei just played better when it came down to the third set two years ago. I've always been in the thick of things the past two years, so I would say two years ago was more disappointing.

"It was a great match. We both played a high level of tennis. At the beginning, the match was passing by really quick, but in the second and third set it was really good.

"He's been playing with a lot of confidence, he went for his shots and it paid off."

The top Japanese was treated over the course of the home week for hip and lower back pain, but the physical problems could not stop him from charging to victory in the end and his seventh career title.

"He was serving really well, with a lot of aces. Likely I got the first tie-break and that helped my motivation for the match," said Nishikori.

"If I had lost the tie-break, I might have screwed up the whole match. He started aggressively and I think it was one of my toughest games against Milos.

"I am really happy to win. He had a lot of chances in the third set; he almost broke my serve a couple of times."

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