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Day 7 preview: Men’s SF, Pliskova v Cornet for title

7 January 2017, by Dan Imhoff

A new champion will be engraved beneath a well-credentialed honour roll of grand slam-winning alumni after the Brisbane International women’s singles final on Treasury Brisbane Day.

When Czech third seed Karolina Pliskova and unseeded Frenchwoman Alize Cornet meet in Saturday night’s decider they will bid to have their name join the likes of major winners Victoria Azarenka, Petra Kvitova, Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova on the Evonne Goolagong Cawley Cup.

Pliskova – one half of the junior slam-winning twins from seven years ago – has long been touted for greater success but only really hit her straps in the past year.

The 24-year-old finished her best season ranked No.6 and capped it off helping the Czech Republic land its third straight Fed Cup. She picked up her sixth career title over Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati and little did pundits realise a rematch would play out in the US Open final only weeks later. Kerber claimed revenge in New York but not before Pliskova ended the run of both Venus and Serena Williams. The Czech comfortably disposed of Ukrainian sixth seed Elina Svitolina in Friday night’s semifinal.

Former world No.11 Cornet is through to her first Premier level final since Dubai 2014.
The gutsy 26-year-old displays the full array of emotions on court but admits she is learning to better keep them in check as she eyes her sixth career title. After downing second seed Dominika Cibulkova, she was handed an easy passage into Saturday night’s decider when Garbine Muguruza retired hurt.

Cornet has tasted success on Australian soil before, claiming last season’s Hobart title and winning the Hopman Cup alongside Jo-Wilried Tsonga in 2014. Best remembered for defeating Serena Williams three times in a row in 2014, Cornet will carry a 1-0 record into her match with Pliskova.

RAONIC, DIMITROV, NISHIKORI AND WAWRINKA DO BATTLE

Twelve months ago, defending men’s champion Milos Raonic pulled off just his second victory in 11 meetings with Roger Federer to secure his eighth career title.

On Friday night, he landed just his second win in eight meetings with another all-time great in Rafael Nadal to reach this year’s semifinals.

The Canadian took down the Spaniard in three sets to set up a last-four encounter with Grigor Dimitrov, a player he has fallen to twice in three encounters, including a second-round loss in Brisbane four years ago.

The two have haven’t played in three years and their careers have taken wildly different trajectories since, with Raonic rising to No.3 in the rankings on the back of his first grand slam final last season at Wimbledon and a semifinal run at the Australian Open.

The mercurial Dimitrov, by contast, plummeted as low as No.40 in the world only six months ago, his lowest mark since February 2013. A resurgence has seen the 25-year-old Bulgarian return to the top 20, though, and with his upset of No.4 seed Dominic Thiem on Friday, he is on the cusp of his second Brisbane final after 2012. Dimitrov’s best results last season were runner-up showings in Sydney and Istanbul.

Stan Wawrinka’s grand slam final record is one for all to envy. Three times he has stood triumphant, three times having beaten a world No.1 in the final. Last year it was the US Open he added to his Australian and French Open titles with victory over Novak Djokovic. His quarterfinal triumph was in stark contrast to Kei Nishikori’s, his semifinal opponent on Saturday.

Wawrinka needed two and a half hours to find his range against Brit Kyle Edmund, while Nishikori barely raised a sweat against Aussie wildcard Jordan Thompson. The Swiss leads the pair’s head-to-head ledger 4-3. Nishikori’s best results in 2016 all came on hard court. He netted his fourth straight Memphis title and picked up an Olympic bronze medal in singles in Rio with a three-set victory over Nadal. He felled Andy Murray to reach his second slam semifinal weeks later at the US Open.

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