BRISBANE • Kei Nishikori says a tennis Grand Slam title is within reach, following his impressive straight- sets win over US Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals of the Brisbane International tournament yesterday.
The 27-year-old Japanese star beat the Swiss world No. 4 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 in one hour and 40 minutes at the Pat Rafter Arena.
He will take on Grigor Dimitrov in the decider, after the Bulgarian stunned top seed and defending champion Milos Raonic 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 in the second semi-final.
Nishikori, one of the best current players not to have won a Grand Slam singles title, got close in 2014 when he finished runner-up to Marin Cilic at the US Open.
But the world No. 5 said after beating Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam winner, that he has the ability to become the first male player from Asia to win a Grand Slam.
"This one will give me a lot of confidence, and hopefully tomorrow too," he said.
"The Grand Slam is going to be a big goal for me to play well."
After an even first set with no breaks of serve, Nishikori stepped up a gear to race away with the tie-break. He then began to outplay Wawrinka and dominated the second set.
"It was a really tough first set," he said. "After that, I think I was playing better in the second."
Wawrinka conceded that he had been outplayed. "I think Kei was a little bit stronger than me today - I think he put a lot of pressure on me during the game," the Swiss said.
Dimitrov, the world No. 17, was in sublime form against Raonic, whose booming serve let him down in key moments.
The Bulgarian showed that he is on track to return to the top 10 with his 87-minute victory, with the match following a similar pattern to the first semi-final.
Dimitrov, 25, has not beaten Nishikori in three attempts.
"There are guys that I have always played differently," he said. "Kei is one of those guys. I think last year we played a pretty close match. I felt like I had my chance and my momentum.
"I'm not playing anything next week so, for sure, I'm going to get out there and just leave it all."
In the women's final in Brisbane, Karolina Pliskova stamped herself as a major contender for the Australian Open with a 6-0, 6-3 demolition of France's Alize Cornet.
The third-seeded Czech played almost perfect tennis in the first set, racing through it in just 18 minutes with the shell-shocked Cornet only winning five points.
Cornet did not get on the board until she held serve in the first game of the second set. But, while the Frenchwoman recovered in the second set, Pliskova was far too strong and took the match in just 66 minutes on her second championship point.
Pliskova will leapfrog Dominika Cibulkova to become world No. 5 when the next rankings are released tomorrow. She is likely to be one of the favourites to win the Australian Open and go one better than her runner-up effort to Angelique Kerber at last year's US Open.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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