Home favourite Kei Nishikori defeated Frenchman Richard Gasquet 7-6(2), 6-1 in the semi-finals of the Japan Open on Saturday, setting up a final against Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev.
The Japanese world number 12 was made to battle during a tough first set as Gasquet saved three break points to take Nishikori to a tie-break.
The Frenchman had won five tie-breaks already this week in Tokyo but couldn’t find the magic formula this time as Nishikori saved his best for when it counted winning 7-2 in the tie-break after a long first set lasting almost an hour.
Gasquet’s spirit appeared broken as Nishikori comfortably broke the 32-year-old’s serve at the first time of asking, wrapping up the second set in just 33 minutes.
"I think winning the tie-break was very big for me and also for him, because he has been playing great tie-breaks this week," Nishikori told reporters.
"I tried to raise my level in the tie-break and be more aggressive, focused and then I played the best tie-break I have played for a couple of months.”
"This gave me good confidence."
Nishikori, who has won this event in 2012 and 2014, is aiming to win his first ATP event since February 2016.
He has battled with injuries and form since, losing seven consecutive ATP finals, most recently to Rafa Nadal at Monte Carlo in April.
"I’m feeling 100 per cent," added Nishikori.
"I was feeling 100 per cent before playing a good clay court season."
"But now I think I’m playing more consistent. I had a couple of bad weeks after clay court but now everything is feeling perfect."
The 28-year-old is currently 10th in the race to reach the end of season ATP Finals in London. With the top eight players qualifying, he is hoping to catch South African Kevin Anderson, currently in eighth, who lost to Gasquet in the quarters on Friday.
Medvedev beat 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-3 in the earlier semi-final.
Medvedev served 12 aces to Shapovalov’s four, with the young Canadian also serving five double faults throughout the match as he struggled to stay with the big-hitting Russian.
The world number 32, who has beaten Diego Schwartzmann and Milos Raonic already this week, wrapped up the victory with back-to-back aces in a time of 63 minutes to reach his third ATP final of the year.
"Dennis is an amazing player," Medvedev said on court, noting he had been prepared for a tough match today after their previous meetings in which Shapovalov had a 2-0 record.
"But I managed to play good and hold my serve and I'm in the final," he said.
"I hope I can make it three out of three this year."
The Russian has won both of his previous finals this year at Winston-Salem and also Sydney, once again as a qualifier.
Shapovalov has yet to reach an ATP final in his young career, losing in three semi-finals this year.
Sevastova to face Wozniacki in Beijing title clash
Anastasija Sevastova defeated US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-4, 6-4 in the China Open semi-finals on Saturday and will take on Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday's title clash.
Sevastova, managing a stomach muscle problem and not quite at 100 per cent, controlled the contest by winning three out of eight break point opportunities to knock out the error-prone Japanese player.
The Latvian said she had sustained the problem in her win over Croatia's Donna Vekic in the last 16.
"Playing against Donna, I had some problems with my stomach muscle and never expected to go further. The physios did a good job and somehow I'm still hanging in there, serving OK," world number 20 Sevastova said.
"It (muscle issue) changes the serve a bit. I didn't go too much for aces or fast serves... just tried to hit the angles and placement and that helped."
Sevastova edged a tight first set with a solitary break as Osaka's game showed signs of falling apart. The 20-year-old made 42 unforced errors in the contest.
Osaka also struggled with a lower back problem in the second set as Sevastova raced to a 5-2 lead before closing out the win.
In the other semi-final, Australian Open champion Wozniacki converted five out of eight break point opportunities to thump local hope Wang Qiang 6-1, 6-3 and reach her first hardcourt final since Melbourne.
Sevastova, who is looking for her second title of the season, has never beaten Wozniacki in four previous meetings.
Basilashvili sets up Beijing showdown with Del Potro
Unseeded Nikoloz Basilashvili beat Briton Kyle Edmund 7-6(6), 6-4 in the China Open semi-finals on Saturday to set up a title clash with top seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Basilashvili sent down seven aces and won 78 per cent of points on his powerful first serve to prevail in 98 minutes and move into Sunday's title clash, where he faces Argentine Del Potro for the second time in his career.
World number four Del Potro had earlier advanced to the final after his semi-final opponent Fabio Fognini pulled out of the contest in Beijing because of ankle pain.
Edmund, who had beaten world number 34 Basilashvili in both their previous meetings, wasted the opportunity to claim the opening set after taking a 5-4 lead.
Basilashvili clawed his way back to drag the set into a tie-break, which he won. The Georgian switched gears in the second set and made full use of his big hitting to break Edmund for a third time in the match and close out the win.
The Hamburg champion, who is looking for his second title of the season, was beaten in three sets by Del Potro in their only meeting in the Shanghai Masters last year.