KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS, AFP) - David Ferrer advanced to his 50th career tennis final after he and Feliciano Lopez both survived gruelling semi-final encounters at the Malaysian Open on Saturday to set up an all-Spanish decider.
Ferrer, the top seed, clawed his back after losing the first set to beat Germany's Benjamin Becker 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 after the veteran Lopez won a tense shoot-out with Australia's Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7-2), 7-6 (7-5).
Ferrer, 32, has a 24-25 record in career finals and will be appearing in his fourth championship match this year, having already racked up titles in Qatar, Rio and Mexico, in January and February.
"Today I didn't serve so well, but the most important thing is I was good in my mind and I'm very focused," Ferrer said. "Tomorrow my return and my first serve will be very important. Feliciano is playing very good the last couple of months. I need to play with my forehand and make him move."
The 34-year-old Lopez, seeded second in Kuala Lumpur, fired 12 aces past Kyrgios, 14 years his junior, to advance to his second ATP final this year.
"Experience is always a good thing to have but today I think the match could have gone either way," he said. "If you play a tie-break against someone who's such a good server as Nick you know it's going to be tight."
Ferrer and Lopez, close friends and Davis Cup team mates, have played each other 14 times over the past decade with Ferrer leading 8-6 head-to-head, including their last five matches. The last time Lopez beat Ferrer was at Shanghai in 2009.
Meanwhile, Kyrgios fell short of reaching his second professional final but is eyeing a higher ranking as he seeks to put this season's controversies behind.
The 20-year-old, whose temper and crude on-court comments have earned him a "bad boy" image, managed to keep his emotions in check this time. He hammered 13 aces but struggled with the Spaniard's deft drop shots and volleys.
"I was looking good today, but he came up with some ridiculous volleys today and you have to appreciate something like that," said Kyrgios, who applauded some of Lopez's return winners on court. "It was a great game of tennis and he did enough to come away with the win."
Kyrgios made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the Australian Open this year, but his play has been overshadowed by his behaviour. In August, he was fined for his now-infamous on-court comment to Stan Wawrinka at the Rogers Cup, a sexual slur concerning the Swiss player's girlfriend that triggered widespread condemnation.
He faces a possible suspension of 28 days if he commits further transgressions. "I tend to get upset when something stupid happens, like when the linesman gets a line call wrong, but today was a really good game," he said.
Now at No. 41 in the world, Kyrgios is eyeing a move up. "I want to get into the top 32. That's my goal. I'm not the biggest goal-setter but I'm happy with my performance," he said.
His career-high ranking is 25, reached earlier this year. "I'll just have to get back up and keep competing again," he said.
The only other final Kyrgios has reached was the Estoril Open in May, where he lost to Frenchman Richard Gasquet.