World No.17 Grigor Dimitrov has claimed the Brisbane International title after outlasting Kei Nishikori in a tense final on Sunday.
The pair were evenly matched over the first two sets but crucial unforced errors from Nishikori in the third opened the door for a 6-2 2-6 6-3 victory for Bulgarian Dimitrov at Pat Rafter Arena.
It is his first win over Nishikori in four attempts and his first ATP title since 2014.
Dimitrov, 25, will also be hoping it is the sign of things to come this season as he eyes a return to the world’s top 10 and a strong run at the Australian Open later this month.
After upsetting top seed and defending champions Milos Raonic in the semi-final, Dimitrov tore through the first set but was dominated in the second as Nishikori turned the tables.
But a lengthy medical time-out for the Japanese world No.5 before the deciding set seemed to resettle Dimitrov’s nerves and give him back the momentum.
A forehand into the net and an overblown backhand from Nishikori gave Dimitrov the chance for the break and, seconds later, he was serving for the match.
“It’s been pretty emotional past year so for me, this trophy means a lot,” said Dimitrov, whose world ranking blew out to No.40 in July before improving across the second half of the year.
“This 10 days out here for this tournament has been the most fun I’ve ever had on a tennis court, and off the court.
“I just want to say a big thanks to our team – Dani (Vallverdu, coach), that’s our first trophy together.”
Dimitrov won’t play in any more tournaments before the Australian Open, where his best finish was a quarter-final in 2014, while Nishikori is set to play in the Fast4 exhibition alongside Rafael Nadal in Sydney on Monday night.