The seeds began to fall early at the Chennai Open 2017. On the first day, sixth seed and last year’s finalist Borna Coric was shocked by Hyeon Chung. This was followed by the biggest upset of the tournament when top seed Marin Cilic lost to qualifier Jozef Kovalik. Martin Klizan, the fourth seed, was soon sent packing by Aljaz Bedene.
However, amongst all the bombing around him, Roberto Bautista Agut found a way to avoid the booby traps on his path to make it into the semi-finals. But the second seed was on the verge of an exit in his quarter-final clash against veteran Mikhail Youzhny. After dropping the opening set to the Russian, Bautista Agut had his back against the wall at 1-4 down in the second.
The Spaniard then staged a massive comeback, not just in the second set, but again in the decider to eventually prevail 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the gripping encounter. The two-hour long match was one of the best of the tournament so far and had the crowd glued to their seats till almost 11 pm.
Bautista Agut’s semi-final opponent though, had a completely contrasting match in the last-eight stage. Benoit Paire, seeded five, blasted past Bedene 6-3, 6-0 in barely 60 minutes. The Frenchman has now set up a rematch of their 2013 semi-final against Bautista Agut, and will be the fresher one on Saturday.
But history doesn’t read kindly for Paire. He has faced Bautista Agut five times so far and has never managed to beat the Spaniard. Bautista Agut, who is bidding for his fifth ATP title, hopes to recover in time for the mouth-watering semi-final contest.
“It’s going to be a difficult match. Let’s see how I recover after this (quarter-final) match. He’s a talented player, we know each other very well. We have played so many times in the past. It’s going to be another day, another fight and let’s how it goes,” Bautista Agut said after his win over Youzhny.
The last time they met in Chennai, the match was decided over three topsy-turvy sets and fans will be eager to see another tight battle between the two. Apart from Bautista Agut’s fitness, the match could come down to who serves better. Paire hit four aces and won 91 percent of his first serve points on Friday and will need to produce a similar performance if he wishes to have any chance of proceeding to the final. The biggest worry for Paire had been his lack of consistency, but he is confident of staying focused this week.
In the top half, the third semi-finalist is another player who is extremely familiar with the courts of the SDAT Stadium, just like Paire and Bautista Agut. Israel’s Dudi Sela, a former top-30 player, is making his second semi-final appearance in Chennai. Back in 2010, he lost to Stan Wawrinka, but he has a great chance of doing one better this year.
Sela ousted third seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas 7-5, 6-4 in his quarter-final match on Friday in an hour and 45 minutes. Sela converted three of the four break points that came his way and had the Spaniard on the run throughout the match with some lethal forehands. He will need the same precision and power against an unknown opponent.
The top half, in contrasting style, has no seeds and a surprise package in the form of 20-year-old Russian Daniil Medvedev. The 6’6” tall player is one of the rising Next Gen batch, and has impressed this week with his performances that include an upset win against eight seed Lu Yen-hsun.
“Daniil is a good player, he hits the ball so hard and he can play amazing tennis. He had a great season last year and he’s an upcoming player. I don’t know him, I have no idea how he plays – if his forehand is better or backhand, so it’ll be a tough match,” Sela said after his match.
“You can feel after a few games what his strengths and weaknesses are, but I am going to text a few players who have already played him to find out,” he joked.
Medvedev too echoed his next opponent’s sentiments. “I don’t really know him and I don’t think he knows me, so it’s going to be a good match. I am going to try to be at my best, and try to win,” he said.
The Russian is making his first semi-final appearance at the ATP World Tour level and has a realistic shot of reaching the title showdown. Ranked 99, he is just three places behind Sela and is rising fast up the ladder. He leapfrogged from 331 at the the end of 2015 to 98 in 2016. His powerful groundstrokes and return of serve make him a formidable opponent. Sela would be aiming to draw him into the net as often as possible to exploit one of the chinks in the youngster’s armour.
With two intriguing matches lined up in the singles for Saturday, Indian fans will also be keeping an eye on the doubles action. The Indian duo of Rohan Bopanna and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan is up against Nicholas Monroe and Aretm Sitak, seeded fourth, in the semi-finals. If Bopanna/Nedunchezhiyan win, they will set up an all-Indian final against Purav Raja and Divij Sharan, something that the fans will definitely be rooting for. All in all, Saturday promises some great action to bring us closer to the end of the opening week of tennis in the 2017 season.