Novak Djokovic secured a record-equalling sixth Miami Open title in comfortable fashion on Sunday as he defeated Kei Nishikori in straight sets.
The world number one claimed the trophy for a third straight year with a 6-3 6-3 victory in a match that lasted just under an hour and a half.
As well as drawing him level with Andre Agassi for the most Miami triumphs, this success also saw Djokovic move one clear of Rafael Nadal to become the outright leader with 28 on the list of players to have won the most ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments.
The Serbian responded to a first-game break by his Japanese opponent by immediately breaking back, then broke him again to go 4-2 up.
Nishikori broke back to make it 4-3, but Djokovic then did likewise en route to wrapping up the opening set.
The second saw Djokovic break straight away, and he went on more or less untroubled from there to victory, while Nishikori needed treatment on his left leg at one point, and at another threw a racquet away in frustration.
Djokovic told Sky Sports: “I think Kei started really well and I knew he would come out with a great intensity and try to take the short balls and be aggressive, but I managed to answer right back.
“The first set was a battle, but by the second I had already started feeling more comfortable in my service games, putting a lot of pressure on his.
“Overall, it was a very solid performance and I can’t ask for a better start to the season so far.”
The 28-year-old was also victorious at Indian Wells last month and in January claimed his third straight major by winning the Australian Open.
He has 11 grand slams to his name, but he is still yet to win the French Open, the next major to come this year.
Djokovic added: “I just want to focus on the next event (the Monte Carlo Masters).
“I know everybody keeps talking about Roland Garros and what my chances there are, but it is a long clay-court season as well, so I need to build, take care of my body and have the right, positive frame of mind, not letting anything slip, and then I’m sure I’ll give myself a fair chance.”
Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka is on the verge of pulling off a rare ‘Sunshine Double’ as she attempts to follow up her Indian Wells title triumph with victory in the Miami Open final on Saturday.
The Belarusian two-time Australian Open champion will take on Svetlana Kuznetsova for a chance to become just the third woman to win titles in Indian Wells and Miami in the same year, a feat only accomplished by Steffi Graf (1994, 1996) and Kim Clijsters (2005).
Both Azarenka and Kuznetsova are previous champions in Miami with the former grabbing the trophy in 2009 and 2011 and the latter experiencing success in 2006.
Azarenka, who is looking to win the same title on three separate occasions for the first time in her career, has amassed an incredible 21-1 win-loss record in 2016 so far, with her only defeat coming to Angelique Kerber in the Australian Open quarter-finals in January.
She avenged that loss to Kerber in the Miami semi-finals late on Thursday, overcoming the reigning Australian Open champion 6-2, 7-5 in an exhilarating battle.
Having plummeted in the rankings due to injury, Azarenka is finally back in the top-five for the first time since May 2014 thanks to her bullish performances over the past three months that saw her capture titles in Brisbane and Indian Wells.
Standing between her and the elusive ‘Sunshine Double’ is Russian veteran Kuznetsova – a two-time major champion herself – who is back in the Miami finals 10 years after she won it as a 20-year-old.
Kuznetsova, seeded No15, upset Serena Williams in the fourth round earlier this week and made the final by defeated Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-3.
“She’s a very talented and diverse player. She is one of the players who knows how to handle big stages. I know she has her up and downs in her career, but she knows how to handle big stages. She is a two-time grand slam champion, so it speaks a lot,” said Azarenka of Kuznetsova.
“Seeing her coming book into her form, I know she’s always been a dangerous player, so for me it’s going to be really fun challenge to see also where we both are in a different timing of our career since we last played. It’s going to be really fun. It’s tough, but the final can be unpredictable and is the type of the match where you give it all.”
Azarenka, who beat Williams in the Indian Wells final last week, is searching for a 20th career title on Saturday.
Asked if she feels like she is the best player in the world at the moment, the 26-year-old said: “I wouldn’t go out there and kill myself every day if I didn’t feel like that.”
On the possibility of pulling off the Indian Wells-Miami double, Azarenka added: “I don’t think about too much ahead what it’s going to mean because those are just stats. For me, I have a job to do on Sunday.
“Regardless if I’m going to win and it’s going to make a history, first I need to focus on now recovering for this match. It’s been a lot of tennis for me this past month, but I’m ready. I’m prepared… I’m going out there hungry.”
Should Kuznetsova win the title, she will re-enter the top-10 for the first time since May 2010.
Djokovic, trying to match Andre Agassi’s record of six Miami titles with his third in a row, will play Belgian 15th seed David Goffin on Friday for a berth in Sunday’s final.
The 28-year-old Serbian won his 14th consecutive match at the hardcourt event and his 28th out of 29, but needed a gritty performance after back pain began early in the second set, prompting him to have massage therapy before serving in the sixth game.
“Due to windy conditions on the court, it was hard to find a good rhythm to serve,” Djokovic said. “I had a little bit of a spasm in the back but (the trainer) did a great job and I was able to finish the match.”
Asked if he had any worries the spasms might become a long-term issue, Djokovic said: “No concerns. None at all.”
On the women’s side, reigning Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, the second seed from Germany, and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus advanced to a Thursday semi-final showdown.
Both have finals wins over top-ranked Serena Williams this year, Kerber at the Australian Open and Azarenka at Indian Wells.
Berdych lost his 10th consecutive match to Djokovic, whose domination of their career rivalry reached 23-2. Berdych’s last victory over Djokovic was in a 2013 Rome quarter-final.
Djokovic blasted a crosscourt forehand winner to break Berdych for a 3-1 lead and held from there to claim the first set, in which the Czech had 21 unforced errors.
Berdych surrendered a break to open the second set but Djokovic first reached for his lower back in the next game but held and broke again to end the match.
“Overall, this is the best match I’ve played in the tournament,” Djokovic said. “I feel better than I did last year at the same stage. I’m hoping I can keep the same trajectory.”
Djokovic won his 11th Grand Slam title two months ago at the Australian Open and also has crowns this year at Indian Wells and Doha.
Goffin matched his semi-final run from Indian Wells by downing French 18th seed Gilles Simon 3-6, 6-2, 6-1.
Former world number one Azarenka defeated British 24th seed Johanna Konta 6-4, 6-2 while Kerber cruised into the semi-finals, downing US 22nd seed Madison Keys 6-3, 6-2.
The German second seed, the last of the top 12 remaining, is 1-6 lifetime against Azarenka, but won their most recent meeting in the Australian Open quarter-finals on the way to the title.
Eighth-ranked Azarenka, who won the 2009 and 2011 Miami titles, will jump to fifth in the world next week.
Azarenka could become only the third woman to win back-to-back in Miami humidity and Indian Wells desert heat after Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996 and Kim Clijsters in 2005.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova meets Swiss 19th seed Timea Bacsinszky in the other semi-final. The 30-year-old Russian has won both their previous meetings.