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Ruthless Pliskova routs Cornet, wins Brisbane title

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BRISBANE, Australia — A ruthless Karolina Pliskova won all but five points in the first six games to set up a 6-0, 6-3 rout of Alize Cornet in the Brisbane International final on Saturday night, setting an ominous tone for the first Grand Slam tournament of the season.

The U.S. Open finalist will return to a career-high No. 5 ranking for the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 16, after winning her first Brisbane title and seventh on the WTA tour.

The first set lasted less than 20 minutes, with third-seeded Pliskova not dropping a point on serve until the last game. Cornet, who was unseeded and ranked No. 41, didn’t get on the scoreboard until she held to open the second set.

“I didn’t miss almost whole set in the first set,” Pliskova said. “Yeah, I was feeling pretty good today.”

Cornet said she couldn’t get a read on Pliskova’s serve, rating it as more difficult to handle than 22-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams’ serve.

Pliskova is “serving really, really well. I mean, I played Serena a few times, and I could always be able to return a first serve … somehow,” Cornet said. “When you have a serve like this, it’s such a weapon. It’s pretty much nightmare, actually.”

The 24-year-old Pliskova had a breakout season in 2016, reaching her first Grand Slam final – beating both Venus and Serena Williams before losing to Angelique Kerber at the U.S. Open – and helping the Czech Republic win the Fed Cup.

On the men’s side, Milos Raonic’s title defense ended in a 7-6 (7), 6-2 semifinal loss to Grigor Dimitrov, who will play third-seeded Kei Nishikori in Sunday’s final.

Dimitrov fended off set point in the tiebreaker and converted his own moments later. He broke Raonic’s serve twice in the second set.

Raonic didn’t blame the late finish Friday in his comeback quarterfinal win over Rafael Nadal, or the toll that playing the 14-time Grand Slam winner took on his body.

Dimitrov “made it obviously very difficult (and) I didn’t turn around and bring the performance I needed to bring,” Raonic said. “I was just a tidbit slow. ”

Raonic made the semifinals at the Australian Open last year, reached his first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon and finished the year at No. 3 in the rankings. But he hasn’t won a title since his success in Brisbane last year. He thinks his preparation can change that in 2017.

“I feel very good about it,” he said. “I’m on that right track – I feel like if I can avoid that hiccup, I can have a very, very good time in Melbourne.”

Nishikori beat U.S. Open champion Stan Wawrinka 7-6 (3), 6-3 to reach the final for the first time at the season-opening tournament, ending a run of three semifinal defeats. He has a 3-0 record against Dimitrov, who lost the 2013 Brisbane final to Andy Murray.

Wawrinka, who won the Chennai tournament in India in the first week of the season for the three previous years, had treatment on his left ankle in the first and second sets but didn’t expect it to cause him any trouble at the Australian Open.

Nishikori took full advantage, converting his first break point in the second set to take a 3-1 lead when Wawrinka missed consecutive backhands. The No. 2-seeded Wawrinka broke back immediately, but dropped his serve again in the next game.

Wawrinka beat Nishikori in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year; his only win in their past four matches. Now they’re tied 4-4 in career meetings.

Nishikori was making his seventh trip to Brisbane, and playing a semifinal for the fourth time.

“I tried many times, and this is first time to get Sunday, so I’m really happy,” the 2014 U.S. Open finalist said. “And especially beating Stan today, it was a good start of the year. Tomorrow it’s going to be maybe tougher match, but I look forward to playing the final.”

Dimitrov defeats Goffin to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Grigor Dimitrov claimed the biggest title of his career at the season-ending ATP Finals on Sunday, prevailing on his fifth match point to beat David Goffin of Belgium 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“It’s such an honor to play here,” Dimitrov said. “This week has been one of the best I’ve ever had.”

The sixth-seeded Bulgarian won in 2 hours, 30 minutes, 15 seconds for the longest final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008.

Dimitrov won all five of his matches at the O2 Arena to become the first player to win the elite tournament on debut since 1998, when Alex Corretja of Spain triumphed in Hanover.

Goffin saved three match points on his own serve, but Dimitrov kept his cool, taking the second opportunity on his own delivery to close it out.

By reaching the final, Dimitrov had already secured a career-high No. 3-ranking to end the year. Goffin also moves up to a career-best No. 7.

The final lasted more than 11 minutes longer than Roger Federer took to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011. It was a nervous start as both players failed to hold serve in the opening three games before Goffin settled down to control the opener as Dimitrov struggled with his timing.

However, Dimitrov fought his way back into the set. He leveled in the eighth game before breaking once more in the 12th to snatch the set in which Goffin hit eight more winners.

Dimitrov’s confidence carried into the second set, where he brought up the first break point in the sixth game, only for Goffin to produce a stunning cross-court backhand winner to save it. The momentum back with him, Goffin broke the following game for a 4-3 lead and calmly closed out the set.

Having come from behind to beat Federer in Saturday’s semifinal, Goffin had every reason to be confident and could have gone ahead. But he wasted four break points in the opening game – they would turn out to be his only chances in the decider.

Dimitrov was more clinical, striking in the sixth game to take control. Goffin tested Dimitrov’s nerve by saving three match points on his own serve, before saving one on Dimitrov’s. However the Belgian’s resistance came to an end as he netted a backhand volley, leaving Dimitrov in tears.

(This story has been corrected to show it was the longest three-set final since the tournament returned to a three-set format in 2008, not longest three-set final ever.)

Goffin ousts Federer in ATP Finals semis

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LONDON — David Goffin ended Roger Federer’s bid for a seventh ATP Finals title by stunning the favorite 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals on Saturday.

The Belgian claimed the biggest win of his career and qualified for the final on Sunday, when he will face Grigor Dimitrov or Jack Sock. They play later Saturday.

Federer looked to be heading toward his 11th final at the elite season-ending tournament when he cruised through the first set, but Goffin took advantage of a drop in his play to level.

Despite having lost all six of his previous encounters with Federer, Goffin was able to execute better in the deciding set, breaking in the third game and producing a nerveless display of serving to seal victory.