Tokyo: Record-breaking Japan superstar Kei Nishikori rose to fourth in Monday`s new world rankings, equalling Kimiko Date-Krumm as his country`s highest-ranked tennis player.
The 24-year-old, who is the top-ranked Asian-born man ever, tweeted: "Just saw the new rankings. Very proud of another step...#4 this week."
Nishikori, last year`s US Open runner-up, now trails only Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal after leapfrogging Britain`s Andy Murray, meaning he will avoid the top three until the semi-finals at the major tournaments.
"He has the touch of a genius," former Japan number one Shuzo Matsuoka told AFP. "He has the imagination and shots you just can`t teach."
Nishikori recently won his third successive Memphis Open, his eighth ATP Tour title. He is fast closing in on Nadal and trails the 14-times grand slam champion by just 260 ranking points.
"It`s an achievement that`s almost impossible to explain," Matsuoka told Japan`s Sankei Sports, comparing the skinny Nishikori to a sumo grand champion. "He`s really playing `yokozuna`-grade tennis."
Nishikori burst onto the scene as an 18-year-old by winning in Delray Beach as a 244th-ranked qualifier in 2008, and is a huge celebrity in Japan.
Millions woke up at the crack of dawn to watch his bid to become the first Asian man to win a grand slam at last year`s US Open, where he lost in the final to Croatian Marin Cilic.
China`s Li Na blazed a trail for Asian tennis players by reaching number two in the women`s WTA rankings last year after winning the Australian Open, capping a remarkable career in which she also captured the 2011 French Open.
She retired seven months later with knee trouble.
Nishikori`s coach Michael Chang, whose parents came from Taiwan and who was raised in the United States, is a former world number two who won the French Open in 1989.