AUCKLAND, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Fourth seed Jack Sock overcame fellow American Steve Johnson 6-4 6-3 with a patient game plan on Friday to set up an Auckland Classic final against Portugal's Joao Sousa.
The 24-year-old Sock, last year's beaten finalist in New Zealand's largest city, broke once in the first set and twice in the second against his seventh-seeded opponent, though neither player really settled into their serve throughout the match.
Sock had the better all-round game though, controlling the tempo of most rallies and dominating at the net, and said he was growing in confidence ahead of next week's Australian Open.
"It wasn't easy. He's such a good player," Sock said in a courtside interview. "I was able to execute today ... and get a couple of breaks and that was enough.
"It would be good to try and take a title heading into the big tournament next week, but either way I've had a lot of matches and am feeling pretty confident."
Sock clinched victory in 71 minutes with a running forehand pass to break Johnson for the second time in the second set and advance to the final against Sousa, who had dismantled former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis 6-1 7-5.
The Cypriot struggled in the first set, winning just seven points as Sousa raced out to a 5-0 lead, but he managed to hold serve then signalled the second set would not be as easy.
The second set went on serve until the 11th game when Sousa raced to a 0-40 lead on Baghdatis' serve and got the breakthrough when the Cypriot double faulted.
The Portuguese held three match points in the 12th game and while eighth seed Baghdatis staved off two of them Sousa produced his third ace to seal the win.
"It was a tough one today, he played very well," Baghdatis told reporters. "I was a bit flat in the beginning, I got broken really early, it was tough to find my rhythm. He was very aggressive.
"I tried coming back, which I thought I did well, I had my chances at end of the second set at 4-3 and 5-4 on his serve.
"But I wasn't aggressive enough to break him on his second serve and that's about it."
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford