Japan Open final to see del Potro-Raonic
By Alastair Himmer, AFPTOKYO--Top seed Juan Martin del Potro will face last year's runner-up Milos Raonic for the Japan Open title after both men demonstrated brute power and steely determination in winning their semifinals on Saturday.
October 6, 2013, 12:08 am TWN
Former U.S. Open champion del Potro had to dig deep to beat Spain's Nicolas Almagro 7-6, 7-6 in an electrifying encounter to reach Sunday's final of the US$1.43 million Tokyo hard-court event.
Third seed Raonic ruthlessly dispatched Croatia's Ivan Dodig 7-6, 6-1 after a spot of early bother, closing out the first semifinal with a flurry of lightning-quick aces.
Del Potro, runner-up to Tomas Berdych in 2008, squeezed through the first-set tiebreak 9-7 with a cross-court backhand that nibbled the edge of the line, prompting a wry exchange of grins between the players.
Sixth seed Almagro continued to go toe-to-toe with the giant Argentine in the second set, again forcing a tiebreak, but del Potro, his blue bandana soaked in sweat, had too much firepower and took it 7-1 on a fierce serve that almost knocked his opponent over.
“We both played at our maximum,” world number seven del Potro told reporters. “He hit some unbelievable shots and I had to come back with some amazing shots. One or two points can be the difference and I played two good tiebreaks and played well at the important moments.”
Raonic, yet to drop a set in Tokyo after winning his fifth career title in Bangkok last weekend, could prove a tough nut to crack for del Potro, who is playing his first tournament since a shock second-round exit at last month's U.S. Open.
The baby-faced Canadian, beaten by Kei Nishikori in the 2012 final, calmly overturned a 4-1 deficit in the first-set tiebreak to take it 7-4 with a rocket serve nudging 230kph.
Local hero Nishikori's reign as champion came to a halt against Almagro in Friday's quarterfinals.
“Tomorrow's a final and anything can happen,” added del Potro, currently sixth in the Race to London standings for the season-ending World Tour Finals.
“Milos is serving so hard and just won a tournament beating Berdych in the final. I don't know who's the favorite but he will be a very difficult opponent.”
A fired-up Raonic quickly moved through the gears in the second set, securing a double-break with a crunching backhand pass.
The 22-year-old swiftly delivered the coup de grace with three straight aces — his 12th sealing victory after an hour and 23 minutes — to ensure he will move up from 11th to 10th in the race to play at the eight-man Tour Finals from Nov. 4-11.
“In the second set I started swinging a little more freely,” said Raonic, bidding for a third title of the season.
The way the world number 11 tore through the second set will have given del Potro food for thought.