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Day 8 preview: Dimitrov v Nishikori for men’s title

7 January 2017, by Dan Imhoff

Gifted prodigies in their day, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov are long accustomed to the glare of hefty expectations. They turned professional within a year of each other and made their marks as teenagers, trailing in the footsteps of three of the game’s most prolific major winners.

It has not always been the easiest of rides. At 27 and 25, respectively, both are still bidding to break that grand slam duck. Consistency has been the cornerstone to Nishikori’s success, with the Japanese star – one of the tour’s fleetest of foot – hovering in the No.4 to No.8 range in the rankings since reaching his first grand slam final at the US Open in 2014.

For among the game’s most fluid shot-makers, the flashier Dimitrov is on the upward trajectory of a rollercoaster rankings ride with the former world No.8 having fallen as low as No.40 as recently as last July. Now on the cusp of a return to the top 15, the Bulgarian is finding the kind of form, which took him to the Wimbledon semifinals in 2014.

Nishikori’s best results in 2016 all came on hard courts. He collected his fourth straight Memphis title and picked up a bronze medal in singles at the Rio Olympic Games with a three-set victory over Rafael Nadal.

He took down a red-hot Andy Murray in five sets to reach his second slam semifinal weeks later at Flushing Meadows and finished with his equal best year-end ranking of No.5. Three times he has fallen at the semifinal stage in Brisbane but with a straight-sets upset of three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka on Saturday, Nishikori finds himself in his first singles decider on Hancock Prospect Mens’ Finals Day, gunning for his 12th career title.

Four years after dismissing Canadian Milos Raonic in straight sets on his way to the Brisbane International final, Dimitrov earned a rematch on Pat Rafter Arena on Saturday. He delivered the same outcome. His straight-sets victory was his third in four meetings with the world No.3 and earned him a shot at his fifth career title.

On Hancock Prospecting Men’s Finals Day, he will look to go one better than his runner-up showing against Andy Murray in 2013 and will need to overcome a 0-3 record against Nishikori to do so.

Dimitrov’s best results last season were runner-up results in Sydney and Istanbul, where he let match-winning leads evaporate on both occasions.

In the men’s doubles final, it is two unseeded pairings squaring off for the title with the scratch wildcard Australian tandem of Jordan Thompson and Thanasi Kokkinakis hoping to cap their giant-killing run through the draw when they take on the big-serving Gilles Muller and Sam Querrey.

Kokkinakis is making a return to tour after a year of injury woes and in a first-time teaming with Thompson, claimed a string of big scalps – Stan Wawrinka and Lucas Pouille, top seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut and fourth seeds Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in succession.

Muller and Querrey were handed a free pass into the final when all-Australian duo Sam Groth and Chris Guccione were forced to withdraw after a calf injury to Guccione. They had earlier taken down Nishikori and Dominic Thiem.

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