BRISBANE, Australia â€” Canadian Milos Raonic came up short in the defence of his Brisbane International title on Saturday in a 7-6 (7), 6-2 semifinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov, who will play third-seeded Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.
Dimitrov fended off set point in the tiebreaker and converted his own moments later. He broke Raonic’s serve twice in the second set.
Raonic didn’t blame the late finish Friday in his comeback quarter-final win over Rafael Nadal, or the toll that playing the 14-time Grand Slam winner took on his body.
“(Dimitrov) made it obviously very difficult (and) I didn’t turn around and bring the performance I needed to bring,” Raonic said. “I was just a tidbit slow. “
Raonic made the semifinals at the Australian Open last year, reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and finished the year at No. 3 in the rankings. But he hasn’t won a title since his success in Brisbane last year. He thinks his preparation can change that in 2017.
“I feel very good about it,” he said. “I’m on that right track â€” I feel like if I can avoid that hiccup, I can have a very, very good time in Melbourne.”
Nishikori beat U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (3), 6-3 to reach the final for the first time at the season-opening tournament, ending a run of three semifinal defeats. He has a 3-0 record against Dimitrov, who lost the 2013 Brisbane final to Andy Murray.
Wawrinka, who won the Chennai tournament in India in the first week of the season for the three previous years, had treatment on his left ankle in the first and second sets but didn’t expect it to cause him any trouble at the Australian Open.
Nishikori took full advantage, converting his first break point in the second set to take a 3-1 lead when Wawrinka missed consecutive backhands. The No. 2-seeded Wawrinka broke back immediately, but dropped his serve again in the next game.
Wawrinka beat Nishikori in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year; his only win in their past four matches. Now they’re tied 4-4 in career meetings.
Nishikori was making his seventh trip to Brisbane, and playing a semifinal for the fourth time.
“I tried many times, and this is first time to get Sunday, so I’m really happy,” the 2014 U.S. Open finalist said. “And especially beating Stan today, it was a good start of the year. Tomorrow it’s going to be maybe tougher match, but I look forward to playing the final.”
Later Saturday, a ruthless Karolina Pliskova won all but five points in the first six games to set up a 6-0, 6-3 rout of Alize Cornet in the Brisbane International final, setting an ominous tone for the first Grand Slam tournament of the season.
The U.S. Open finalist will return to a career-high No. 5 ranking for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16, after winning her first Brisbane title and seventh on the WTA tour.
The first set lasted less than 20 minutes, with third-seeded Pliskova not dropping a point on serve until the last game. Cornet, who was unseeded and ranked No. 41, didn’t get on the scoreboard until she held to open the second set.
“I didn’t miss almost whole set in the first set,” Pliskova said. “Yeah, I was feeling pretty good today.”
Cornet said she couldn’t get a read on Pliskova’s serve, rating it as more difficult to handle than 22-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams’ serve.
Pliskova is “serving really, really well. I mean, I played Serena a few times, and I could always be able to return a first serve … somehow,” Cornet said. “When you have a serve like this, it’s such a weapon. It’s pretty much nightmare, actually.”
The 24-year-old Pliskova had a breakout season in 2016, reaching her first Grand Slam final â€” beating both Venus and Serena Williams before losing to Angelique Kerber at the U.S. Open â€” and helping the Czech Republic win the Fed Cup.
John Pye, The Associated Press