Kuala Lumpur - Top seed Kei Nishikori fought off Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 on Saturday to make it into his first Malaysian Open final.The Japanese hotshot will now face France's fourth seeded Julien Benneteau, who continued his sterling run in the competition with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of second seed Ernests Gulbis.
Nishikori, who drew a 5,000 sell-out crowd at the Putra Stadium in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, put in a commanding show for most of the game's 137 minutes.
Using his trademark baseline power-play to rack up quick points, he surged to a 3-1 lead after initial resistance from the world number 57 before holding the advantage with a 6-3 victory.
The world number eight couldn't keep up the tempo in the second, as Nieminen began to read his game to take a 3-1 lead, before Nishikori level-pegged at 3-3.
The rally of the tournament saw both players exchange almost 20 returns, which the Finn won to eventually level at 6-4 and take the tie into the decider.
Cheered on by the majority of supporters -- many of them young women who gushed over Nishikori's boyish looks -- the 24-year-old snapped back into action as he dictated play with a variation of winners, including one sublime backhand volley which paved the way to a 6-2 victory.
"Today was a little difficult, because Jarkko played well in the second set. Maybe I relaxed a little bit, but I couldn't take my chances after that and am happy everything worked out well," Nishikori said.
Nishikori, who in the recent US Open became the first Asian man to make a Grand Slam singles final, may also not have an easy battle in the Malaysian Open final on Sunday as he comes up against nine-time singles finalist Benneteau.
"Julien is definitely a tough player, especially on the indoor court. He's dangerous with his serves, has good forehand and backhand, and I'm sure there will be long rallies," Nishikori said.
He also hailed the electric atmosphere in Kuala Lumpur.
"It's almost like playing in Japan. I'm really fond of this crowd who kept cheering me on. They are not only Japanese, but many Malaysians as well, and I'm really enjoying it," he said.
Benneteau, who ranks 28th in the world, defeated Latvia's Gulbis, who ranks 13th, courtesy of some phenomenal court coverage and a work-rate of the highest level.
The 2012 and 2013 runner-up of the Malaysian Open is determined to break the jinx.
"You never expect an easy match against the top 20, and today it played in my favour," he said.
"Nishikori is a great player, he's fast... I have to find a way to beat him tomorrow."
Results from day six of the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday (x denotes seeded players):
Kei Nishikori (JPN x1) bt Jarkko Nieminen (FIN) 6-3, 4-6, 6-2
Julien Benneteau (FRA x4) bt Ernests Gulbis (LAT x2) 6-4, 6-4