MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — All the big names from Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe to Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Andy Roddick are on the list of past champions.
Now Kei Nishikori of Japan stands alone as Memphis’ first three-peat champ.
Nishikori became the first man to win three straight Memphis Open titles, beating South African Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4 in the final Sunday.
“It’s (an) amazing feeling because nobody ever done this before at this tournament, so it’s something special,” Nishikori said. “But, you know, I think I have to do better to keep this, and hopefully I can keep going.”
Nishikori improved to 13-1 at the indoor tournament, where Connors, Tommy Haas and Todd Martin failed to string together three straight titles. Now only Connors has more championships at The Racquet Club than Nishikori, who is tied with Haas and Roddick at three apiece.
“I think I am going to move here soon,” Nishikori said before accepting his guitar trophy.
The fifth-ranked Nishikori won his eighth career ATP title and first since Tokyo last year. He needed only 76 minutes to beat the second-seeded Anderson despite playing with a sore right wrist and a blister on his left pinkie toe. He got his left thumb taped during the first set before taking the $106,565 winner’s check.
Mariusz Fyrstenberg of Poland and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico won the doubles title, beating Artem Sitak of New Zealand and American Donald Young 5-7, 7-6 (1), 10-8.
Nishikori, the U.S. Open runner-up, now is 10-2 this year.
“I think it’s a great start for the year and like last year, so really happy to (do) this three times in a row,” Nishikori said.
Haas won the titles in 2006 and ’07 but lost in the second round in 2008, while Martin went back-to-back in 1994-95 only to drop the 1996 final to Pete Sampras.
Connors lost to John McEnroe in the 1980 final and to Brad Gilbert in the 1986 quarterfinals.
This also is the first time Nishikori has won the same event three consecutive years. He was happiest at playing his best match of the tournament, picking his moments to jump on shots.
“Played really solid from the baseline, I think, and returned really well, especially his second serve,” Nishikori said. “I was making everything, and that’s why I could break a couple times.”
Anderson now has lost six straight finals, still looking for his third career title and first since Delray Beach in 2012. He actually practices regularly with Nishikori, including at the start of this week, and Anderson said the champ is playing much more aggressively from the baseline with speed that allows him to reach so many balls.
The 6-foot-8 Anderson with the booming serve now is 7-14 against top-five opponents.
“That’s a good eye opener for me, just the level of tennis, and definitely, I think, gives me some motivation and belief that definitely … I feel it’s there,” Anderson said. “It just needs more time.”
Nishikori broke Anderson to go up 5-4 then served out the first set in 38 minutes for the fast start that had eluded him in Memphis. He dropped the opening set of each previous match here this week.
“He didn’t make it easy, so I have to give credit to him,” Anderson said. “I think he came out played a really solid match. I felt I played a couple of really loose games, especially in that first set.”
Nishikori broke Anderson with a backhand passing shot he celebrated with a big fist pump to go up 3-2 in the second. Nishikori served it out, though Anderson pushed him to deuce in the set’s 10th game before the South African finally hit a forehand wide on Nishikori’s fourth championship point.
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