Flying Finn Jarkko Nieminen defeated two-time champion James Blake 7-6 (7/5), 5-7, 6-2 here on Saturday to reach his third final at the Stockholm Open.
Nieminen, who lost trophy bids here in 2001 and 2006, will play for his second career title against the winner from Saturday’s second semi-final between top seed Gael Monfils and Canadian Milos Raonic, seeded sixth.
The 30-year-old Nieminen won in Auckland five years ago but has lost five finals since — including Stockholm to Blake in 2006.
Blake came to the semi-final with a 6-1 lead in head-to-head meetings and had also beaten the Finn in 2007 and 2010 quarter-finals at the Kungligahallen.
Blake, plagued by several seasons of injuries, began his week by eliminating second seed Juan Martin Del Potro, while Nieminen put out third seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the second round.
For Blake, ranked 69th after years in the Top 10, this was only his third defeat in the capital.
“I was angry with the way that I played,” said the 31-year-old American afterwards. “I had chances and I didn’t take them. Jarkko played more aggressive and served better than I’ve even seen him do.
“He deserved to win. I get frustrated when I know I’m not playing my best. I’m fine physically, the shoulder and the knee. He made me play his way. He was aggressive and forced himself on me.”
Nieminen, who almost matched Blake with five aces to the American’s six and broke five times in a victory lasting just over two hours, found little fault with his performance.
“This was pretty close to my best,” said the Finn. “It’s one of the top ten wins of my career. I’m pleased with how I played.
“My tactics worked well today, I varied my serve and took advantage of it in a smart way. I stayed aggressive all the way through. There were only a few points where I was not positive.”
Nieminen won the first set in the tiebreaker after 47 minutes, but Blake rallied in the second set, saving five break points to hold for 6-5 before levelling one set all with a subsequent break of the Finn.
But Nieminen asserted himself again in the third after the set began with three straight breaks.
The Nordic hero broke again for 5-2 and served his way into another final on the first of two match points as Blake put a forehand wide.
Nieminen lifted his record to 21-22 for the season, with a Bangkok quarter-final against Monfils his best showing prior to this week.