Tokyo: Top seed Juan Martin del Potro has survived some fierce body blows from Milos Raonic in Sunday`s Japan Open final, winning a heavyweight clash 7-6, 7-5 to take his third title of the year.
Third seed Raonic, also runner-up last year, had proved an irresistible force at the $1.43 million Tokyo event, not dropping a single set and firing a tournament-high 64 aces before running into an immovable object in the shape of del Potro.
Another 17 failed to get the job done against the giant Argentinian.
Del Potro, beaten in the 2008 final by Tomas Berdych, clinched victory with a whipped forehand pass and celebrated with an ear-splitting roar of delight after a hard-hitting contest lasting an hour and 46 minutes.
One lucky fan caught his sweat-soaked bandana to take home as a souvenir.
"This is a fantastic win for me," del Potro told reporters, flanked by the silver trophy engraved with some of greatest names in tennis.
"Milos serves aces all the time.
"You have to try to stay patient and not get frustrated.
"I waited really patiently for my chance in the last two games. You have to be more aggressive with players like Milos."
Both players began sharply and the first set, played in bright sunshine with the roof open after a wet week in Tokyo, inevitably went to a tiebreak, a rare double-fault from Raonic gifting the initiative to del Potro. He clinched it 7-5 with a huge ace the Canadian never got a whiff of.
Some of Raonic`s serving left del Potro shaking his head, many fizzing past him at more than 230 kph.
"Against Milos sometimes you have to just hang on for a tiebreak," said the champion, who also won in Rotterdam and Washington this season. "You can`t return those serves."
Del Potro, given a wildcard to play his first tournament since a shock second-round exit at last month`s US Open, caught fire in the 11th game of the second set with four breathtaking points, securing the break with a clinical volley after a classic chip-and-charge.
He double-faulted on his first match point in the next game but made no mistake with his second, reacting superbly to a Raonic volley to blaze a forehand cross-court and seal his 16th career title.
Del Potro, US Open champion in 2009, earned $312 000 and moved up from sixth to fifth in the Race to London standings for the season-ending World Tour Finals.
The 25-year-old is also projected to rise from seven to five in the new ATP rankings.
Raonic, who won his fifth career title in Bangkok last weekend, climbed from 11th to 10th in the race to play at the prestigious eight-man event from November 4-11.
"Rankings are just the icing on the cake," said the 22-year-old, who had won his only previous meeting against del Potro in Montreal earlier this year.
"There`s not a lot to be down about. Maybe that double-fault in the tiebreak.
"But in the second set he hit four winners to break me -- there`s not much you can do about that."