Milos Raonic punches ticket to Japan Open final
Canadian dispatches Croatia's Ivan Dodig, 7-6 (4), 6-1
Canada's Milos Raonic moved closer to a possible place in the ATP season-ending event as he reached a second straight final at the Japan Open on Saturday with a 7-6 (4), 6-1 semifinal win over Croatian Ivan Dodig.
But the 22-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., is trying to keep it all in perspective as he improves one spot to provisional tenth in the race to the eight-man World Tour Finals set for London in just over a month.
No Canadian has ever played the elite tournament in singles, though Toronto's Daniel Nestor has made multiple appearances at year-enders in doubles.
"London is still far away for me," said Raonic, winner of his last eight matches in Asia and the champion last weekend in Bangkok. "I don't have any issues thinking about it.
"I'm playing well but I have a long way to go to possibly qualify. I need to keep giving myself chances to try and make it. But I'm not letting it get into my head.
"I'm just concentrating on each match, I've been playing well and I want to keep that up. I know what I have to do to keep on winning these matches, that's what I want to concentrate on right now."
Raonic, seeded third, will play for the title on Sunday at the Ariake Colosseum against Juan Martin del Potro, who defeated Nicolas Almagro in Saturday's other semifinal.
Raonic lost the Tokyo final a year ago to Japan's Kei Nishikori, who went out this year in the quarter-finals to Almagro while complaining of back pain.
As he bids for the sixth title of his career and third this season after San Jose and Bangkok, Raonic said that his run of form over the past months was made possible by his final against Rafael Nadal at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in August.
"Montreal helped me to gain confidence,"he said of the first event he played after taking on former player Ivan Ljubicic as his coach. "I wasn't playing my best there, but it got me started."
It took just under 90 minutes for Raonic to defeat Dodig, with the first set lasting almost one hour. The Canadian took charge in the second set with his big serve.
Raonic faced the first break point in three matches, saving it in the third game of the second set against Dodig, who had won both of their previous matches.
He recovered from a 4-1 deficit in the first set, then passed Dodig 5-4 and set up a pair of set points after the Croatian sailed his return wide.
Raonic fired over his sixth ace to seal the long set and took that momentum into the second set, which barely lasted 30 minutes.
Raonic won his 41st match of the season and his eighth straight in Asia after claiming the Bangkok title last weekend over Tomas Berdych.
Saturday's match marked Raonic's fifth time playing in a semifinal this season, and he has now won four of them. He came to the court without having faced a break point in 30 previous games and has held serve in 79 of 81 games during his Asian run.
He will be playing in back-to-back finals for the third time in his career.