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Hewitt turns back clock

AP, Kyodo

Former No. 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt provided a vintage performance with a gritty 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 win over second-seeded Kei Nishikori on Saturday to advance to the Brisbane International final and a showdown with Roger Federer.

The 32-year-old Hewitt handled the heat better than his Japanese opponent as the temperature topped 40 Celsius, reaching his first final on home soil since losing the 2005 Australian Open final to Marat Safin.

The top-seeded Federer beat Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3 in the other semifinal.

Hewitt, back in the top 70 in the rankings for the first time in three years after struggling with long-term toe and foot problems, won the 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon and spent 80 weeks at No. 1 before Federer assumed the top ranking and held onto it for 4½ years.

Despite giving up eight years to Nishikori, Hewitt scrambled around in his trademark way.

At 5-5 in the first set, he was up 40-0 on his serve before Nishikori won the next five points and then held for the set.

Hewitt faced breakpoints at 4-4 in the second but managed to hold and then broke Nishikori in the 10th game to level the match. He then raced out to a 3-0 lead in the third before closing it out.

“I love a battle,” Hewitt said. “Mentally this is a major win to have come back and gone the distance.”

Said Nishikori: “I got off to a good start, kept him under pressure and made the most of my chances.”

Nishikori, who was seeking to make his first final since he won his third title last February at the U.S. National Indoor Tennis Championships, said the heat got the best of him against the local favorite.

“It was so hot and between that and my fatigue from the day before, my concentration lagged,” Nishikori said. “My legs got heavy, too.”

Also Saturday, Serena Williams showed she has carried her momentum from 2013 into the new season, beating No. 2-ranked Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 7-5 to defend her title at the Brisbane International and set the tone for the Australian Open.

The top-ranked Williams extended her winning streak to 22 matches with the emphatic win over the reigning Australian Open champion, making it back-to-back victories over two of her main rivals. She beat four-time major winner Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the semifinals.

The year’s first major starts Jan. 13 at Melbourne Park and Williams, who won 78 of her 82 matches and collected 11 titles last year, is positioning herself as the favorite to claim a sixth Australian title.

She improved to 14-3 against Azarenka, who beat Williams in two finals last year and was the last person to defeat the American — at Cincinnati in August.

Williams earned the first break in the seventh game and hit fired consecutive aces to finish off the first set in 37 minutes.

The Williams sisters were hoping to both win a WTA Tour event in the same week for the first time in 15 years, but Ana Ivanovic prevented that when she beat Venus 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 in the final of the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand.