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Nalbandian wins in Sydney to underline Open chances

DAVID Nalbandian made his Australian Open credentials clear to all concerned yesterday by swiping the Sydney International title.

Certainly his final opponent Jarkko Nieminen was left in no doubt as to the burly Argentine's determination as Nalbandian ground out a gutsy 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 win on a chilly night under floodlights.

The second set was tight but in essence the gulf in class between the world No. 11 and his Finnish opponent was vast for much of the clash.

The dark-shirted Nalbandian was all gritted teeth and clenched fist as he took his 10th career title from 20 finals.

Nieminen, who beat world No. 3 Novak Djokovic on Friday, was simply unable to keep up with the Argentine's viciously punched groundstrokes and superior courtcraft.

The only slip Nalbandian made was when serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set he allowed his focus to blur and was broken to love.

That momentary momentum shift buoyed Nieminen, or Nemo as the Sydney crowd affectionately branded him, and he held three set points at 6-5 but Nalbandian fought back to force a tiebreak.

Nieminen needed six more in the tiebreak before finally levelling the match but Nalbandian eased into the driving seat once again in the third.

The tennis was not always pretty and Nalbandian showed more than his fair share of nerves but that was matched by grit and determination as he closed out the match on his second championship point with a smash.

In Melbourne, Roger Federer completed his preparations for a tilt at Pete Sampras' record of 14 grand slam titles with an easy 6-1, 6-3 victory over Swiss compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka at the Kooyong Classic.

Federer captured his second title in the eight-man invitational event, which he traditionally uses to fine tune his game before his Melbourne Park campaign. He also won in 2005.

Federer missed the tournament last year due to illness and was subsequently knocked out in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

After his 57-minute victory on Saturday, he said he was confident of adding to his three other Australian Open titles.

"I played plenty of matches, so that's not the issue; no health problems, feeling fresh and fit and ready to go and excited, so things are the way I was hoping them to be," the world No. 2 said.

In New Zealand, top seed Juan Martin Del Potro sealed his fifth ATP tour title with a comfortable 6-4, 6-4 victory over American Sam Querrey in the final of the Auckland Open yesterday.

The world No. 9 began strongly, breaking in the first game, before sixth-seed Querrey broke back in the sixth and took a 4-3 lead.

However, the Argentine rattled off the next three games to take the first set.

Querrey had the opportunity to get back into the match with three break-point opportunities in the second set but the tall Del Potro was able to save all three, though he also failed on two break opportunities himself.

Del Potro finally managed to seize the advantage when he broke in the ninth game and then produced a clinical service game in the 10th to seal the victory.


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