Roberto Bautista Agut played out of his skin to escape to a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Mikhail Youzhny to set up a semifinal clash with Benoit Paire at the Chennai Open.
Youzhny was cruising towards an easy win when the match turned on its head. Up 4-1 after pocketing the first set 6-2 and his backhands angling in nicely, he probably thought the match was in his bag. He couldn’t be more wrong.
The second seeded Agut decided to change his game plan before it got too late. He picked his game up, decided to tire Youzhny out with longer rallies and faster play. The ploy worked. He managed to break the Russian, held his serve and captured the second set 6-4.
If one thought Agut escaped after winning five consecutive games, they couldn’t be more wrong, again.
Fortunes swung wildly as the pair kept trading breaks, with Youzhny getting the first break at love for a 3-1 lead. In no time, Agut broke back in the same fashion (at love) and followed it with a perfect service game. After a 11-point streak gave Agut a triple breakpoint opportunity, the match looked settled in the Spaniard’s favour. But Youzhny wasn’t done. He saved all three breakpoints; a volley, a beautiful slice that spun sideward hugely contributing to the 4-3 scoreline.
After easily letting Agut hold his serve, a tiring Youzhny soon began making many unforced errors with his backhands, which were working well in the first set, at crucial moments to concede a break and let Agut serve for the match.
Youzhny had set himself up to break Agut with a 15-40 lead, but Agut dug up all his reserves and managed to close out the match after two hours and four minutes.
"It's good to get such tough matches going into the season. It's good for the confidence. When I was 4-1 down, I increased the pace of my game and it came off," Agut said after the match.
Youzhny later revealed that he got "mentally tired" during the game and "tried to make the games shorter."
Agut's persistence and the willingness to work hard, play longer rallies paid off after all.
SELA EASES PAST RAMOS-VINOLAS TO REACH SEMIS
Earlier, Albert Ramos-Vinolas became the latest casualty as the third seed lost to Israel’s Dudi Sela 7-5, 6-4 at the Centre Court. The Israeli will meet 20-year-old Daniiil Medvedev in the semifinal on Saturday.
Benoit Paire ripped apart Aljaz Bedene 6-3, 6-0 in what turned out to be a dud affair in another quarterfinal.
The Israeli had the third seed on the backfoot right from the first game as Sela capitalised on Ramos-Vinolas’ weak serve to take the lead with the first breakpoint opportunity.
With a dominant backhand game, Dudi Sela rattled off cross-court winners at regular intervals against the left-handed Spaniard who was playing his first Centre Court match in Chennai. The 31-year-old Sela was also quite effective at the net, often gliding the ball to the opponent's court with a deft touch.
The only time Sela looked a little uncertain was when he was serving for the first set. He committed a series of errors after leading 40-30, failed to convert two set points and conceded the break to bring the match on serve.
It turned out to be a minor hiccup as the Israeli broke the Spaniard back in the very next game with a forehand winner down the line to serve for the set again. This time, the Israeli didn’t leave anything to chance and hit two consecutive forehand winners to settle the set in his favour at 7-5.
After a creditable win, Dudi Sela chose to reflect on the upcoming semifinal match against the 20-year-old Medvedev. “Medvedev is a good player. He can play amazingly tennis. He had a great year last year, he is an upcoming player, I haven’t played him before. So I will have to ask my friends in the circuit about him,” he said.
In the second match at the Centre Court, Benoit Paire brought his A game to crush Aljaz Bedene in just over an hour. It was expected to be a closely fought encounter between a current top 50 player (Benoit Paire is World No. 47) and a former top 50 player, with both boasting of a good repertoire of shots and court skills to be a top 10 player.
But what one witnessed on Friday was a ruthless demolition of the Brit by the flashy Frenchman. Speedy serves, swinging forehand winners and spinning drop shots were all executed to perfection by the fifth seed.
After warming up in the first two service games, Paire showed early signs of domination with a clever chip at the net and take a 3-1 lead and followed it up a with service game for 4-1 lead. Bedene brought some parity with good serves but just couldn’t do much against a rampaging Benoit.
Frenchman Paire even teased Bedene with a tweener at the forecourt in the first set, in what was a sign of domination that was to follow.
With World No. 101 Bedene coming into the quarterfinal clash after a marathon three-setter, the after-effects were visible as he couldn’t move well in the match. He was even seen clutching his back in the second set and that probably made it a no-contest.