Dimitrov upsets Raonic, sets up Brisbane final vs Nishikori

By The Canadian Press
January 6, 2017 - 6:15am

BRISBANE, Australia — Canadian Milos Raonic's title defence ended in a semifinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the Brisbane International on Saturday, a day after his come-from-behind win over Rafael Nadal.

Top-seeded Raonic, a product of Thornhill, Ont., beat Roger Federer for the title here last year, avenging a loss to the Swiss star in the 2015 final, and appeared to be on course for a third straight Brisbane final when he had set point in the first-set tiebreaker against Dimitrov.

But the 25-year-old Bulgarian held firm, saving that set point, converting his own moments later and then breaking Raonic's serve twice in the second set on the way to a 7-6 (7), 6-2 win.

Raonic didn't blame the late finish Friday against Nadal, or the tax that playing the 14-time Grand Slam winner took on his body, for his lapses on Saturday.

Dimitrov "made it obviously very difficult (and) I didn't turn around and bring the performance I needed to bring," Raonic said. "I didn't serve a high enough percentage. I was just a tidbit slow.

"He won over 80 per cent of second-serve points, which is, for lack of a better word, pretty bad on my side."

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 — I feel like if I can avoid that hiccup, I can have a very, very good time in Melbourne."

The No. 17-ranked Dimitrov improved his record to 3-1 in career meetings against Raonic and set up a final against Kei Nishikori, who 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.

"Milos is one of the biggest servers out there. I knew what to expect," Dimitrov said. "I felt everything went pretty well in the first set for me. And after that first break ... I felt mentally I was strong."

Nishikori has a 3-0 record against Dimitrov, who lost the 2013 Brisbane final to Andy Murray and was ousted by Federer in his previous two trips to Brisbane.

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.

Third-seeded 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."

The Japanese star is still chasing his first Grand Slam title, with his best run at a major remaining his appearance in the 2014 U.S. Open final.

U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova was playing unseeded Alize Cornet in the women's final on Saturday night.

John Pye, The Associated Press

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