Japanese ace Kei Nishikori made history as he rose into the top 10 on the ATP World Tour rankings, but was hobbled by a back injury in the final match of the Madrid Masters.

The 24-year-old made the Madrid Masters after a 6-4, 6-4 win against Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in the semifinals. He became the first Asian since Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan to reach the world top 10.

“It was a big goal for me to get to the top 10,” Nishikori said. “My goal is not just to be there for one week so hopefully I can keep that ranking for a while.”

But the rising favorite, already feeling pangs in his lower back through an extraordinary semi-final against David Ferrer, stumbled through the Madrid Open with a back injury that gave Rafael Nadal his second straight title.

The Japanese player led by a set and a break point, but was forced to withdraw due to a recurring injury to his lower back. Kei Nishikori made a blistering start on Nadal’s favored clay to win the first set 6-2 and was a break up in the second and serving at 4-3.

By late into the second set it was evident that Nishikori couldn’t ignore the pain and he needed to receive medical treatment. Nishikori already lost his rhythm in the third set and was hobbling around the court to return Nadal’s serves.

Nadal made several unforced errors but went on to win the game. Nishikori could barely walk to the net to shake hands.

Kei Nishikori said he had “never felt like this on clay.”

“I’m very sorry for what’s happened. This is my first final and I was very excited. Unfortunately I was hurting already and trying to fight, but Rafa was good,” Nishikori later said at a news conference.

“It was my hip, actually everywhere. After the second set, my legs were hurting too much.”

“It was very sad, especially as I was winning, playing almost the best tennis in my life,” he added.

Nadal’s second straight win at the Madrid Masters ensures his world no. 1 ranking as he heads to the Rome Masters.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image courtesy of UNIQLO

Kei Nishikori, Japanese tennis players, ATP World Tour, Madrid Open