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May 30, 2017

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Nieminen to play Benneteau in Sydney final

SYDNEY -- Journeymen Jarkko Nieminen and Julien Benneteau earned themselves a rare ATP title shot at the Sydney International after beating higher ranked semifinal opponents on Friday.

Finland's Nieminen, 30, needed a marathon 26-point tiebreaker before prevailing over Uzbekistan's 67th-ranked Denis Istomin 7-6 (14/12), 6-3 in 1 hour 44 minutes to reach his 12th career ATP final on Saturday.

French world No. 49 Benneteau required six match points and won through a see-sawing 14-minute final game before seeing off Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-4 in almost 2 hours.

Left-hander Nieminen, ranked 77, has only won one title — in Auckland six years ago — and was a beaten Sydney finalist in 2009 against David Nalbandian.

He is bidding to become the first qualifier to win the tournament since South Korea's Lee Hyung-Taik claimed the title nine years ago.

"I really enjoyed that moment being in the finals again now a second time here," Nieminen said.

"It's just great that I start the year like this. I struggled in the beginning of the last year, and this is a real great confidence boost for me."

Benneteau, 30, a semifinalist here two years ago, will be playing in his sixth final and has yet to win a title.

The Frenchman, who improved his record against Baghdatis to 4-2, has yet to drop a set this week after wins over Andreas Seppi, fourth seed Feliciano Lopez and Alex Bogomolov Jr.

Former Sydney winner Baghdatis was disappointed with his performance a few days ahead of the Australian Open, where he was a beaten finalist against Roger Federer six years ago.

"I was a bit tight again. I wasn't so aggressive. I tried but my shots were not heavy enough," 43-ranked Baghdatis said.

"He played very smart, very aggressive, and was serving very well. I had my chances. I didn't take them, he did. Basically, that's it."

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