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By Chris Oddo

Kei Nishikori wins the 2012 Japan Open in Tokyo (October 9, 2012) -- Heroes & Zeros is Tennis Now's weekly look at the brightest stars of the game -- and the biggest flops. This week we'll cover the Asian swing, looking back at Tokyo and Beijing.

Hero: Kei Nishikori

If you elected to deprive yourself of much-needed sleep and watched Kei Nishikori’s magical Tokyo title run last week as it happened instead, you are probably sound asleep right now. For the rest of you, oh boy did you miss something special. I guess that’s why they call him special Kei, after all.

Nishikori’s bullet train ran right through such superpowers as Tomas Berdych, Marcos Baghdatis and Milos Raonic at the Rakuten Tennis Open, and when he had finally convincingly dispatched Raonic in the final set of the championship match, all that was left was the pondering.

As in: How high can this seriously talented 22-year-old climb in the rankings? Last year at this time he was blasting through the previous Japanese best ranking of 46 in the world. It was a novelty. Something nice for Japanese tennis and tennis overall, but nothing for the top dogs to be afraid of. This year, they are starting to be afraid. Nishikori, at a career-high ranking of No. 15 in the world, is a mere stone’s throw away from the top ten now, and when you look at his remarkable athleticism, easy power and jack-rabbitty quickness it makes you wonder if Nishikori might someday be capable of playing the game at the level of Novak Djokovic.

Perhaps that is taking it too far. For now, let’s just bask in the glory of all that Nishikori did last week. He became the first Japanese player to win in Tokyo since it became an ATP event, and he brought the house down at the Rakuten Tennis Open in the process. Keep in mind, this is no low-end affair they’ve got going in Tokyo: past champions include Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt, Jim Courier, Roger Federer, Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe, to name a few.

Zero: Novak Djokovic

Nole did awesome winning the Beijing title, increasing his 2012 title count to four, increasing record to 65-11, and closing the gap on Roger Federer in the race for the year-end No. 1 ranking, but getting outdanced by a ballgirl in the post-match awards ceremony after the match is simply unacceptable.

Hero: Victoria Azarenka

Don’t knock beating Maria Sharapova six consecutive times on a hard court until you try it.

Azarenka, 23 and on top of the women’s game for 33 weeks now, has tried it – and done it. Yesterday in Beijing, she capped a sizzling romp through the draw by once again dispatching Sharapova in a prestigious final as if she was some type of grade B player playing her first career final. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. And it’s not Sharapova’s fault – Azarenka is that good, and yes, she's getting better.

Zero: Anybody who tried to hold serve against Azarenka

Azarenka broke Sharapova in five of eight return games against her in the final, making it 26 service breaks in 42 return games for the China Open. That’s just plain hard to fathom.

Hero: Ze Zhang

The up-and-coming Zhang gave the Beijing faithful something to be immensely proud and hopeful about last week when he upset Richard Gasquet to become the first Chinese player to defeat a top 20 player. His run to the quarterfinals in Beijing was the first quarterfinal run for a Chinese player in 17 years. The 22-year-old Nanjing, China native jumps to a career-high ranking of 154 in the world as a result of his exploits.

Zero: Roger Federer Death Threat Maker

Thanks to the intrepid Courtney Nguyen at SI, we now know that the details of the famed “Blue Cat Polytheism Founder 07” death threat against Federer. Turns out the person was just an internet troll. What’s that you who had temporarily lost his grip on reality. What's that you say? You already knew that?

Hero: Urszula Radwanska

Aga’s baby sister broke the top 50 in July, the top 40 in September and the top 30 today. Can an all-Radwanska WTA final be that far off?

Hero: Milos Raonic

The Canadian may have lost to Kei Nishikori in the Tokyo final, but he did defeat top tenners Janko Tipsarevic and Andy Murray in the in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and he is sitting at a career-high ranking of No. 14 in the world today. Not bad at all for the 21-year-old.

Hero: Mike Bryan

Mike passed Todd Woodbridge to take over the ATP doubles all-time lead with 84 career titles when the Bryan Brothers won their seventh title of 2012, taking out Carlos Berlocq and Denis Istomin in the Beijing final 6-3, 6-2.

Zero: Mike Bryan

For leaving his “kid” brother Bob in the dust and winning two titles without him. What’s up with that? I thought these guys were a team.

(Photo Credit: Yuriko Nakao/ Reuters)


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