Japanese sensation Kei Nishikori won just the third singles title of his career this weekend with a victory in the 2013 U.S. National Indoor Championships in Memphis.
Nishikori defeated Spanish hopeful Feliciano Lopez in straight sets (6-2, 6-3)—taking just 67 minutes to wrap up proceedings and walk away with the title—and in the process, continued to solidify himself as one of the future stars on the men's circuit.
The 24-year-old recently won the 2012 Tokyo Open in October of last year to start a remarkable run of form that has seen him go 11-2, so far, in 2013.
Nishikori made it to the final 16 of the 2013 Australian Open before losing to fourth seed David Ferrer and had recently made the semifinals of the Brisbane International before that—retiring hurt when down a set and a break against British sensation Andy Murray.
Nishikori's form throughout the year has been something that many have seen coming for a while on the international tennis circuit, with him there or thereabout for many years now. Yet it seems, that with the latest bout of confidence and solid performances, the Japanese star may well have made the progression across to being a more permanent challenger on the men's circuit.
The U.S. National Indoor Championships are just the latest proof of the form that he's in and the sensational skill that he has at the moment to simply read the ball.
Said Lopez after their final (per ESPN):
I knew he was a great player obviously, but he played in a way that I could not play my game I think. He was very, very fast so I didn't find the way to be aggressive and to attack basically, which is the way I have to play, and I couldn't do it at all because he was always there. He knew where I was going to be, and he was there waiting sometimes.
It's the perfect start for him. It was perfect moment. One-love, break, and then he starts playing better and better. It's not about one game. It would have been difficult to win today I think...
Similar praise has echoed in for Nishikori throughout the years now, with several top stars lauding the efforts of the Japanese international and earmarking his strong future in the sport.
Juan Martin del Potro said that Nishikori was a very "dangerous" player following their 2012 Wimbledon clash and that he must be watched in the future.
Nishikori is a dangerous player on a grass court. He's very, very fast, so I tried to put the ball one more time in every point. But Nishikori is playing much better than two or three years ago, and he's still playing better and better. So he could be very dangerous for the rest of the players...
It seems that this latest title is simply proof of what many have said all along—Nishikori has the potential to become the next big thing in men's tennis.
At only 24 years of age, Nishikori has had the experience on the circuit to handle himself in big moments, but also maintains the youth and athleticism needed to compete with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in the future.
Expect him to be a real player not only throughout the rest of the year but particularly at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships. For the Japanese star, you get the feeling that he's only one major tournament away from completely announcing himself as a permanent genuine contender.
2013 could be the year for Nishikori to do just that.
Can Kei Nishikori become one of the top players in men's tennis?