Seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov has won his first title in two and a half years with a confidence-boosting triumph over Kei Nishikori in the men’s singles final of the Brisbane International.
The 25-year-old Bulgarian won his first match in four meetings with the Japanese third seed 6-2 2-6 6-3 on Hancock Prospecting Day.
The pair was evenly matched over the first two sets but crucial unforced errors from Nishikori in the third opened the door for Dimitrov on Pat Rafter Arena.
The former world No.8 had fallen as low as No.40 in the world as recently as last July before surging back to No.17 by season’s end.
“It’s been pretty emotional the last year or so,” Dimitrov said.
“This trophy means a lot. These 10 days I’ve had here have been the most fun I’ve had on a tennis court.”
“I just want to say a big thanks to our team – Dani (Vallverdu, coach), that’s our first trophy together.”
He finished with 24 winners to Nishikori’s 21 and won 13 of 16 points at net.
It marks his fifth career title and first since winning at Queen’s Club in 2014.
Dimitrov will also be hoping it is the sign of things to come this season as he eyes a return to the world’s top 10 and a strong run at the Australian Open later this month.
After upsetting top seed and defending champions Milos Raonic in the semifinal, Dimitrov tore through the first set but was dominated in the second as Nishikori turned the tables.
But a lengthy medical time-out for the Japanese world No.5 before the deciding set seemed to resettle Dimitrov’s nerves and give him back the momentum.
A forehand into the net and an overblown backhand from Nishikori gave Dimitrov the chance for the break and, seconds later, he was serving for the match.
Nishikori will head to Sydney now to contest an exhibition match ahead of his Australian Open campaign.
He leaves having reached his first Brisbane International final, having reached the semifinals on three prior occasions.
The 27-year-old said he was surprised at taking the second set to level the match.
“He had a couple easy mistakes, and that helps me to get two breaks,” Nishikori said.
“Third set I think he started playing better. I had a couple of bad decisions, especially it was 3-all or 4, or something, and he played another good level in the third.
“Maybe he was using more forehand, playing aggressive, and he was serving great today, I think.”