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Dimitrov defeats Nishikori for first title since 2014

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BRISBANE, Australia — Grigor Dimitrov ended a long wait between ATP titles, beating third-seeded Kei Nishikori 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 on Sunday night to win the Brisbane International final and claim his first tournament victory since 2014.

Dimitrov, dubbed `Baby Fed’ earlier in his career for his style similarities with Roger Federer, lost the Brisbane International final to Andy Murray in 2013. He won three titles in 2014, and reached the Wimbledon semifinals as he rose to a career-high ranking of No. 8.

But his form faded and he slipped down the rankings to No. 40 in the middle of last year before starting a career resurgence and entering the season-opening Brisbane event ranked No. 17 and seeded seventh.

“It’s been pretty emotional,” Dimitrov said. “This trophy means a lot.”

He beat defending champion Milos Raonic in the semifinals. Against Nishikori, who reached his first Brisbane final after losing three previous semifinals, he fended off two breakpoints in the first game and another in the third to hold, absorbing all the early pressure before going on the attack and racing through the set.

The second set was almost a reverse of the first, with Dimitrov missing a breakpoint chance early before Nishikori rallied to win it in 33 minutes and level at 1-set apiece.

Nishikori had a medical timeout for what appeared to be a left hip problem and got treatment in the locker room after the second set.

He lost momentum in the third, as Dimitrov upped his level again. The 25-year-old Bulgarian didn’t drop a point in his first two service games in the third and maintained the pressure on Nishikori’s serve, eventually forcing a break in the eighth game for a 5-3 lead. He held at love to close out for his fifth career title when Nishikori hit a forehand long.

Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, predicted he’d be back again.

“First time to be in the finals, so I was very happy this week,” Nishikori said. “I hope I can come back next year – someday I want to win this title.”

Petra Kvitova to play at French Open

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PARIS —¬†Only two months after picking up her racket for the first time following a knife attack at her home, Petra Kvitova will be playing at the French Open.

The two-time Wimbledon champion said Friday she will make her comeback at Roland Garros, although she still lacks power and strength.

“I knew this day would come,” said Kvitova, who was attacked by an intruder last year. “I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true.”

Kvitova has missed all season while recovering from surgery on her racket-holding left hand. She sustained damage to the tendons in her left hand, along with injuries to all five fingers and two nerves, during the attack.

Doctors initially thought she would need more time before returning to tennis. But Kvitova’s recovery was faster than expected and she said last month that she was signing up for the French Open, which begins Sunday, in hopes of being able to compete.

“It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw,” she said.

Kvitova, who won the Wimbledon title in 2011 and 2014 and climbed as high as No. 2 in the WTA rankings, was not allowed to speak about the attack itself because a police investigation is still ongoing. However, she spoke about the anxiety associated with her dreadful experience.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone,” she said. “From the beginning I was really feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better.”

Kvitova also provided details on the intense rehabilitation process that preceded her “last-minute” decision to try her luck in Paris.

“I worked very hard behind the scenes,” she said. “From the beginning I had this hand in a splint for two months, and even then I was practicing every day, always putting the splint away and trying to make this scar softer. So from the second day after surgery I started to work with that, which was kind of easy, just passive work with the fingers. I couldn’t move them.”

Kvitova got rid of the splint after two weeks and started to move her fingers slightly. She said she can’t still move them completely.

Kvitova also consulted with a hand specialist in the French city of Grenoble every month and she started practicing with a racket at the end of March.

“I hit a few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird,” she said. “I didn’t really have touch in the hand for holding the racket. I’m happy that I didn’t have to change any techniques or something. Everything seems OK. Of course the hand doesn’t have that power and the strength yet, but I’m working on it. Hopefully one day will be everything perfect.”

Kvitova will open her campaign on the red clay against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup. She is making her ninth appearance at Roland Garros, where she reached the semifinals in 2012.

“Not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play,” Kvitova said. “I actually already won my biggest fight. I stayed in life and I have all my fingers.”

Nishikori saves three match points in Geneva Open QF win

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GENEVA — Kei Nishikori saved three straight match points in the deciding set before outlasting Kevin Anderson 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (6) in the Geneva Open quarterfinals on Thursday.

The second-seeded Nishikori was serving at 4-5, 0-40 before rallying to beat the 62nd-ranked South African, who fired 14 aces without allowing any by his opponent.

Nishikori also trailed in the tiebreaker before creating a second match-point chance with a forehand crosscourt service return for a winner. He clinched with a forehand winner off a looping net-cord ball.

The No. 9-ranked Japanese player will face 33rd-ranked Mischa Zverev of Germany in the semifinals on Friday.

The Russian-born Zverev, who came through qualifying, beat fifth-seeded Steve Johnson of the United States 6-4, 7-5.