KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – Top seed Kei Nishikori fought off Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 on Saturday to make it into his first Malaysian Open final.
The Japanese hotshot will now face France’s fourth seeded Julien Benneteau, who continued his sterling run in the competition with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of second seed Ernests Gulbis.
Nishikori, who drew a 5,000 sell-out crowd at the Putra Stadium in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, put in a commanding show for most of the game’s 137 minutes.
Using his trademark baseline power-play to rack up quick points, he surged to a 3-1 lead after initial resistance from the world number 57 before holding the advantage with a 6-3 victory.
The world number eight couldn’t keep up the tempo in the second, as Nieminen began to read his game to take a 3-1 lead, before Nishikori level-pegged at 3-3. The rally of the tournament saw both players exchange almost 20 returns, which the Finn won to eventually level at 6-4 and take the tie into the decider.
Cheered on by the majority of supporters — many of them young women who gushed over Nishikori’s boyish looks — the 24-year-old snapped back into action as he dictated play with a variation of winners, including one sublime backhand volley which paved the way to a 6-2 victory.