A final was held between two young champions, but by no means they are not unknown to most people. The two players have come so deservedly far eliminating opponents from the current top 10 on their way and for the two finalists, the top 10 is no longer a mirage.
Of course we are talking about Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, who were on court at the Rakuten Open in Tokyo. The 21-year-old Canadian was on court against the 22-year-old home crowd hero for the final considered the "most modern" out of the 58 tournaments played in 2012. They are separated by only two positions in the rankings, but it seemed much more like they were only centimeters of a difference apart, as Kei and Milos were vying for their first "500" title of their career.
The main motivation for Nishikori, which played a key role, was how the center court crowd drove him on. Nishikori acted out in full the role of representative of the best in tennis history for Japanese colors, in front of his people. In an atmosphere that almost matched the crowd of the Davis Cup, the response saw the Japanese player relinquish one of the best serves on the circuit (and the tournament, of course, with 45 aces from his matches and 83% of first service points won). With these statistics, Kei won in three sets, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-0.
Nishikori played aggressively from the start flying immediately to a 3-0 lead: The break came in the second game. Kei, however, squandered his lead from 3-1, when bad luck struck twice with the help of the net and this led to no further breaks to 6-5, when Raonic saved two set points in a row. Therefore the tiebreak could not be avoided: Nishikori suffered with the psychological strain initially but from 3-3 it followed the order of service, up to 5-4: The Canadian tried to mix things up and ventured to the net, playing a good volley but was pierced by a beautiful cross court backhand stroke from Nishikori: The Japanese star took his chance to take the tiebreak 7-5.
In the second set, however, Raonic had the first opportunity to break in the second game, but the little samurai was not going to be intimidated and pressed on the accelerator. Unfortunately for Nishikori, it did not last: he failed to break and gave Raonic the break to go up by 5-3. The service game held by the Canadian dragged the contest into a third set, after Milos served it out 6-3.
But in the decisive set, the star of the Rising Sun dominated. Raonic appeared to be tiring with each passing minute (very likely to have been feeling the battles against Tipsarevic in the third round and Murray in the semis), so the Japanese player continued to press on. Kei flew to a 5-0 lead and completed the work with a bagel on his fourth match point. For the first time in Tokyo, they can proudly boast about the name of their own countryman being the champion. (It is his second career title, after his success in Delray Beach in 2008).
So instead regret for Milos, not only for his performance in the final but also because had he secured today with a victory, he could have been only 200 points from the top 10 and back in the race for London if he had jumped to tenth place. Of course, a new opportunity (for both players) will be there.