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Julien Benneteau will face Kei Nishikori in Malaysian Open final

Julien Benneteau reached his third consecutive Malaysian Open final on Saturday and will face top seed Kei Nishikori in Kuala Lumpur.

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The fourth seed from France was beaten in the final of the ATP World Tour 250 indoor hard-court event in each of the last two years and will attempt to go one better against the US Open runner-up on Sunday.

Benneteau sprung a surprise by beating Ernests Gulbis 6-4 6-4 in an hour and 20 minutes to maintain his perfect record against the Austrian world number 13, who he has now beaten four times.

The 32-year-old Benneteau has lost all nine ATP World Tour finals in his career and will have to upset the odds to secure a long-awaited victory, as Nishikori shows no signs of a US Open hangover in his first tournament since losing to Marin Cilic at Flushing Meadows.

Gulbis sent down 11 aces, but was unable to create a solitary break point as Benneteau won 82 per cent of points on his first serve to keep his opponent at bay.

Benneteau fashioned three opportunities to break and took two of them, which proved to be enough for him to progress into yet another final in this event.

It was not until the ninth game of the first set when Benneteau was able to take the initiative, breaking Gulbis and then serving out the set to love in emphatic fashion.

And it was the same story in the second set, with Benneteau having to bide his time before putting one foot in the final by again breaking in game nine and once again keeping his composure to serve out the match to love.

Nishikori, who became the first Asian player to reach a grand slam final with his exploits in New York, did not have things all his own way in a 6-3 4-6 6-2 victory over the unseeded Jarkko Nieminen.

The Japanese world number eight is striving to secure a place in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals and looks set to achieve that aim on the evidence of his performance this week.

He fired down eight aces and manufactured 13 break points, six of which he won, as Finn Nieminen was unable to deny the favourite another final appearance.

Nishikori broke twice to take a 5-2 lead in the first set and, although Nieminen responded with a break of his own, he was unable to prevent the 24-year-old from going a set up.

The experienced Nieminen responded by resoundingly breaking to love in the first game of the second set and despite being pegged back at 3-3, the 33-year-old broke again to make it 5-4 and served out the set.

Nishikori regrouped in the decider as his service game improved and a break in the second game gave him a scent of victory, which he secured by taking a second match point to break again and seal his place in the final.

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