Kei Nishikori of Japan celebrates with his trophy after his victory against Milos Raonic of Canada in the men's singles finals match at the Japan Open tennis championships in Tokyo. Reuters/Yuriko Nakao
Kei Nishikori made history as the first Japanese player to win the Japan Open when he beat Milos Raonic to claim his first ATP Tour title in four years on Sunday.
The eighth seed pulverised the big Canadian's serve-and-volley game and won 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-0 for only his second ATP victory, joining Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray among the prestigious event's most recent winners.
Nishikori, 22, has the best ever ranking of a Japanese man at 17, but had not lifted a trophy since Delray Beach in 2008. After beating Raonic, he admitted he thought he would never win his home event.
"I can't believe it," said a jubilant Nishikori. "I've never played well in this tournament before, so I had thought I would never win this tournament. I'm really happy to win."
Nishikori upset Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals and then had a walkover against Nikolay Davydenko. Raonic shocked defending champion Murray, who was playing his first tournament since winning the US Open, to reach the final.
Nishikori said the key to his victory was dousing Raonic's main weapon, his serve, by stepping in and trusting his solid return.
"I knew he has a very good serve, so I tried to move a step forward. My return was working really well this week," Nishikori said. "I was able to cope with him using my returns... that was the key to the victory."
He added: "He attacks on his returns and goes up to the net quickly. And he is willing to take risks. I watched him play Murray."
Nishikori took a 3-1 lead in the first set before Raonic found his range on serve and fought back. The Japanese was unable to convert two set point opportunities on Raonic's serve at 6-5, but kept his nerve in the tie-break.
Sixth-seeded Raonic, who stands 6 feet 5 inches (196 cm) tall to Nishikori's five feet 10, responded by breaking Nishikori in the eighth game of the second set to level the match.
But Nishikori swept through the decider, converting three of his six break point chances and allowing Raonic to win just nine of his service points in the third set.
Victory for Nishikori caps his best season yet and follows a steady climb up the rankings. After an injury-hit 2009, he was ranked 98th at the end of 2010 and 25th at the end of 2011.
The Japanese achieved his best Grand Slam result ever at this year's Australian Open where he reached the quarter-finals, the first man from his country to achieve the feat.
He also reached the Olympic singles quarter-final in London, losing to 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina.
The Japan Open became an ATP event in 1973.