KUALA LUMPUR: Frenchman Julien Benneteau upset top seed David Ferrer of Spain to gain his first tour win over a top-10 player this season in the semi-finals of the ATP Malaysian Open yesterday.
The seventh seed plays Argentine Juan Monaco in his seventh career final at Putra Stadium in Bukit Jalil today.
Monaco bounced back from 5-3 down in the third set and even saved a match point to edge Japan's World No 17 Kei Nishikori 6-2 2-6 7-6 (7-4) and the World No 11, who has won three out of the four finals this season, is the favorite to nail his first title in Asia.
Benneteau has not won a singles title since turning professional in 2000, losing all six finals and his last appearance was in Sydney earlier this year.
The World No 34 overcame a jittery start in the first set before overcoming Ferrer, the World No 5, 6-4 6-1 in 97 minutes.
Both struggled to hold serve in the opening set as they exchanged breaks on four occasions before Benneteau got the decisive break in the 10th game to hold the advantage.
Benneteau then raced to a 4-0 lead, breaking the fast-tiring Ferrer twice, in the second but had difficulty closing out the match on his serve at 5-1-up and only managed to seal a win on his seventh match point.
"I told my coach (Loic Courteau) yesterday (Friday) that I haven't beaten a top-10 player this season and how this would be a nice time," said a delighted Benneteau.
"There were no easy points against Ferrer and my second serve was not good, especially in the first set. It is something that I need to fix ahead of the final."
Ferrer congratulated his opponent for his well-deserved win.
"I had chances to close the match but I did not take them. Benneteau played a good match and he deserves to be in the final," said the 30-year-old Ferrer.
Benneteau, 30, has never played Monaco on the tour but the Frenchman believes he has a solid chance of winning his first career title.
"The final could be similar to today's (yesterday) game and I will try my best to stay aggressive," he said.
Meanwhile, Nishikori had two medical time-outs for treatment on his ankle and calf before the third set but the third seed could have won it if he had kept his nerves.
Monaco had broken twice for a 5-2 lead in the first set before Nishikori called for a time-out and it appeared at first, on his return, he was still troubled by it.
In the second set, Nishikori played a variety of shots and broke his opponent twice to level proceedings.
It looked like plain sailing for the Japanese in the third as he led 4-1 and at 5-3 had a match point before Monaco rallied back to force a tie-break.
Monaco was in the lead throughout the tie-break, leading 4-2 at one stage before clinching the winning point for his first indoor final this season.
"After I had won the first set, Nishikori came back stronger and played very well. There were ups and downs for me in the third but I fought back and won the important points.
"I am very happy with the way I finished but Benneteau will be tough as he plays a good baseline game," said Monaco.