TENNIS

Nalbandian and Nieminen reach Sydney final

David Nalbandian needed 74 minutes to oust Frenchman Richard Gasquet and reach the final of the Sydney ATP International. The Argentinian will face Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, who sent top seed Novak Djokovic crashing out of the competition.

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AFP - Finland's Jarkko Nieminen profited from an error-strewn display to send top seed Novak Djokovic crashing out of the Sydney International on Friday.

The 40th-ranked Nieminen savoured one of his finest results on the ATP Tour to reach Saturday's Sydney final with a fighting 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) win in one hour and 40 minutes.

Left-handed Nieminen, who only reached the semi-finals on a walkover from injured Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, will play Argentina's David Nalbandian in the final.

Nalbandian, who has a 6-4 win record over Nieminen, reached his 20th career ATP final with an untroubled straight sets win over Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the other semi-final.

Djokovic had his chances, with two set points on Nieminen's serve at 5-4 in the second set, but he was unable to convert them and Nieminen was too consistent for the Serbian in the decisive tiebreaker.

"My forehand didn't really work today, and you could see in all the important moments he served to my forehand and I couldn't put the ball in. It was just a bad day," Djokovic said.

"It's always great to win a tournament prior to a grand slam, but he was better today.

"You have to give him credit for that. I just hope I will maintain my high level of performance. It wasn't really what I expected, especially today."

Djokovic only played in the Sydney tournament after receiving a late wild card following his shock first-round exit in last week's Brisbane International to Latvian Ernests Gulbis.

The 21-year-old Serb's form looked to be improving, with wins over Paul-Henri Mathieu and Mario Ancic, but he was disappointed with his showing in windy conditions on the main court against Nieminen.

"Well, (my game's) not 100 percent, but it's getting there," Djokovic said.  "I needed a couple matches here. That's why I came to Sydney. Hopefully, I can get into my shape from last year for (the Australian Open) Melbourne."

Nalbandian, the world number 11, stretched his unbeaten record over Gasquet to seven matches with an authoritative 6-4, 6-3 win in 74 minutes.

Nalbandian is making his first Sydney appearance and has yet to drop a set in disposing of Michael Llodra, four-time champion Lleyton Hewitt and the 25th-ranked Gasquet, who was a losing finalist in Brisbane last week.

"I've just been improving game by game, match by match," Nalbandian said.

"I felt today I played much better than the first one and yesterday, so it looks like every day I have more feeling on the ball and on the game.

"So it's good playing a few matches and to be in the final here."

The last Argentine to reach the Sydney final was Juan Ignacio Chela in 2002 when he lost to Roger Federer.

Having also won all three of his rubbers during Argentina's Davis Cup victory over Australia on grass four years ago, including a straight sets demolition of Hewitt, Nalbandian is now six from six at this venue.

Gasquet, whose serve was broken four times, had earlier spoken of the difficulty of beating Nalbandian.

 

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