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Kei Nishikori books spot in Rakuten Japan Open final


Two-time champion Kei Nishikori swatted aside eighth seed Richard Gasquet with very little fuss on Saturday, beating the Frenchman in straight sets to reach the Rakuten Japan Open final.

Third seed Nishikori, who won the last of his 11 career titles in Memphis two years ago, completed a clinical 7-6 (7-2), 6-1 victory in 89 minutes and will be hot favorite to win the title for a third time.

He faces qualifier Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s Tokyo final after the Russian overpowered Canada’s Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-3 at Musashino Forest Sports Plaza.

Nishikori, who won the Japan Open in 2012 and 2014, drew first blood against Gasquet as he tore through the first-set tiebreak, unleashing a whipped forehand into the corner to snaffle it 7-2.

The world No. 12 moved through the gears in the second set and Gasquet — the beaten Tokyo finalist in 2007 — had no answer as Nishikori battered shots past him at a dizzying pace.

Once Nishikori, a former U.S. Open runner-up, bagged an early break in the second set, French resistance faded and he eliminated Gasquet with a sizzling backhand down the line.

“I figured there might be a tiebreak in there,” said Nishikori.

“He’s such a dangerous opponent, but I stayed focus and found a nice groove. It’s just great to be back in the final.”

Nishikori will be attempting to join Pete Sampras as a three-time winner of the Japan Open, whose list of former winners also includes Roger Federer, John McEnroe and Ken Rosewall.

Only Sweden’s Stefan Edberg has captured more Tokyo titles, winning four times between 1987 and 1991.