BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – Kei Nishikori retired from his Brisbane International semifinal match against world No. 3 Andy Murray on Saturday due to a leg injury.
Nishikori, ranked 19th in the world, was leading the first set against the top-seeded Briton 4-1, but lost five straight games and the first two games of the second set before retiring.
“I feel some inflammation in my knee,” said Nishikori. “The doctor told me it isn’t anything serious.”
It was Nishikori’s first semifinal in his three appearances at the Brisbane event, which serves as a warm-up for the Jan. 14-27 Australian Open in Melbourne.
“I should be back in time for the Australian Open,” Nishikori said.
Murray, meanwhile, is now back where he kicked off his breakthrough 2012 season and his working partnership with Ivan Lendl, only one win away from successfully defending his Brisbane title.
Still in his way is Grigor Dimitrov, the 21-year-old Bulgarian who is starting to live up to his reputation as a star-in-the-making by reaching his first ATP Tour final with a 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5) win over 2006 Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.
The women’s final was set for Saturday night with Serena Williams against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Both Murray and Dimitrov have an eye on the Australian Open, which starts on Jan. 14, but both are conscious of the early-season interest in a showdown between a member of the fabulous four and a player in the up-and-coming group who are determined to break the domination that Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Murray and Rafael Nadal have had in the majors.
Murray knows what is at stake Sunday, recalling his first ATP Tour final against Federer — he lost at Bangkok in 2005 — as an opportunity to go for his shots with nothing to lose.
The top four men are constantly asked about players who’re capable of being in the next generation of champions. The 25-year-old Murray is now including Dimitrov on his list.
“From my point of view, I hope that there isn’t people coming through because it means that I’ll be one of the ones that’s losing out on a spot,” he said, only half-joking. “There are loads of guys that are very, very tough players, all with different games.
“Grigor plays with a lot of variety. He can play a lot of shots. He’s one the few guys coming through that’s got a single-handed backhand as well, so he uses a lot more slice than the others.”
Putting them to the test, in the regular tournaments and the more physically demanding majors, is “when you’ll find out about them,” he said.
Murray lost four Grand Slam finals, including consecutive championships at Melbourne Park in 2010 and ’11, but turned that around after he started last January to work with Lendl, who lost four major finals before going on to win eight.
A year on from their first practice sessions in Brisbane, Murray is a Grand Slam winner — ending that 76-year drought for British men.
He was down 4-1 against No. 5-seeded Nishikori before going on a roll, winning the next seven games before the Japanese player called it quits, two games after receiving medical treatment.
“I’m playing OK. A bit up and down,” Murray said. “I’ve moved better every single match. Returning could have been better, and my groundstrokes, with more matches I’ll start it hit them cleaner.”