BRISBANE • Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov ended a 21/2-year trophy drought yesterday after outlasting Kei Nishikori of Japan in an absorbing final at the Brisbane International tennis tournament.
The 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 win at the Pat Rafter Arena was the 25-year-old's first in four attempts against world No. 5 Nishikori and will boost his confidence ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on Jan 16 in Melbourne. Dimitrov, a former world No. 8, saw his ranking plummet to 40 last July, before he improved in the second half of the season to climb to 17.
"It's been pretty emotional past year, so for me, this trophy means a lot," Dimitrov, whose last ATP title came at Queen's Club in 2014, said during the presentation.
"These 10 days out here for this tournament have been the most fun I've ever had on a tennis court, and off the court."
After surviving three break points during his first two service games, Dimitrov went on to break Nishikori, and then won four consecutive games to close out the first set.
The 27-year-old Nishikori, the 2014 US Open runner-up, fought back in the second set, breaking Dimitrov twice to level the match.
The Japanese then took a lengthy medical time-out before the deciding set, which seemed to hand the momentum back to Dimitrov.
The Bulgarian, who defeated top seed and defending champion Milos Raonic in the semi-final, got the decisive break in the eighth game to go 5-3 up and then served out the match for his fifth career title.
"This is my sixth year now and first time I was in the final. So I'm very happy this week," Nishikori said.
The Sydney International started yesterday with a 6-1, 6-4 victory for Russian fifth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova over Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu.
But the Australian Open warm-up tournament suffered a pair of big-name withdrawals.
Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova, who will climb to world No. 5 following her Brisbane title win on Saturday, pulled out with a left thigh injury, while Ukraine's world No. 14 Elina Svitolina withdrew citing a viral illness.
With the Australian Open starting next week, France's Alize Cornet, the runner-up in Brisbane, also decided against risking a sore back and pulled out of the Hobart International, which she won last year.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE