Nishikori is Kendrick's 'daddy'
As Robert Kendrick addressed the crowd at the $50,000 Knoxville Challenger, he paid tribute to Kei Nishikori, the man who beat him in Sunday's final.
"He's my daddy,'' Kendrick said. "He owns me.''
Indeed, the third-seed Nishikori was impressive, knocking off the sixth-seeded Kendrick in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4 at Knoxville Racquet Club.
Nishikori is 4-0 all-time against Kendrick, with two wins this year. But Japan's top player is at a loss to explain his success against the American.
"I don't know, honestly,'' said Nishikori, ranked No. 126 in the world. "He's a great player. Always tough to play against him. Big serve, big forehand, especially indoors like this.''
Nishikori's strategy was to attack Kendrick's backhand. He did so with precision serves and deft ground strokes, opening up the court with his own solid forehands.
"He has a big forehand, so I was afraid to hit it to his forehand,'' Nishikori said.
Kendrick, making his third Challenger final in four events, admitted his backhand - and forehand - weren't very sharp against the speedy Nishikori.
Why does Nishikori give Kendrick fits?
"He can re-direct the ball really well,'' Kendrick said. "A lot of these other guys (on the tour) keep the ball cross court, cross court, cross court. He changes directions well, especially with his backhand. He can flick it down the line and he doesn't miss that much.''
Nishikori frustrated Kendrick early with two breaks to take the first set easily. Kendrick showed more fight the second set, but couldn't solve Nishikori, who said he couldn't play much better.
"I was playing perfect today,'' said Nishikori, who was presented with a $7,200 winner's check. "A couple of misses, of course, but I'm really happy to play the way I played.''
Kendrick couldn't argue with the champion's assessment.
"He played real well,'' Kendrick said. "He moved me side to side. He wasn't missing too many balls. I knew he'd be tough out there.''
Kendrick, who turns 31 today, was coming off a win last week in Charlottesville, Va.
"I played my best tennis last week,'' he said. "This week, it was more of a fight. I didn't feel like I served that well and the courts were a little slower. But it was good to get to the finals. It just didn't happen.''
In doubles, the No. 3 seeded team of Rik DeVoest and Izak Van Der Merwe of South Africa defeated unseeded Americans Alex Bogomolov Jr. and Alex Kuznetsov in the final, 6-1, 6-4.
The event, which benefits the Helen Ross McNabb Center, is expected to net about $75,000, making it by far the most successful of the 51 Challenger events held by the USTA.
The tournament will return to the expanded UT Goodfriend Indoor courts next year.
Jimmy Hyams is a freelance contributor.