Tomas Berdych, No. 6 in the world and the top seed at the Aircel Chennai Open, was stunned by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The 24-year-old Bautista Agut, who’s ranked 74 places beneath Berdych, out-thought and out-worked the favourite for the tournament 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 at the SDAT Tennis Stadium to enter the semifinals.
Agut played a smart match tactically. He did his best to prevent Berdych from taking over the middle of the court, a position from where the Czech is devastating, for he becomes a puppet-master, working the opponent from side to side. Agut instead forced Berdych to hit on the run, so there wasn’t as much weight going through the stroke.
But tactics are nothing without execution, and it was here that Agut was exceptional. He had the courage to hit deep from the very start, using a flatter stroke instead of one with top-spin, which can drag balls down short; just as importantly, he had the ability, even when stretched, to stretch Berdych in turn, either swatting the two-hander or flicking the forehand.
The frustration at not being able to handle Agut as he will have wished crept into Berdych’s game in the third set and the errors came thicker. Agut varied the spin and the placement of his serve particularly well; this and his excellent movement allowed him to stop Berdych from storming back.
Marin Cilic had earlier exited the Open while spontaneously combusting. He bellowed as he made his way to the net, hastily arranged his features to appear conciliatory when shaking hands, and walked off centre court fuming mad.
The breakdown of his long-wound forehand was the most obvious cause of the 4-6, 6-1, 5-7 defeat to Benoit Paire, but Cilic could just have easily won the quarterfinal. It was that sort of match: mad, staccato, error-strewn, bizarre. Cilic, for instance, won 89 points to Paire’s 85, served one more ace and six fewer double-faults.
Paire’s streaky style influenced the match’s rhythm. Standing unusually upright, the 6ft 5in Frenchman sliced a majority of his serves (wide to the deuce court or curled across the ‘T’ of the ad court), hit the forehand with a wristy flourish, slapped the two-handed backhand, and imprudently indulged the drop shot.
With the 6ft 6in Cilic struggling to time his forehand, Paire directed the play in the first set. Cilic managed to clear his head and clean his game in the second. He served better and stopped snatching at the forehand: this allowed him to wrest the momentum. Simultaneously Paire unravelled, a common affliction of his type of player. But just as it appeared as if the Croat had the match, after he had broken Paire in the first game of the third set, the contest turned again.
Paire went on a hot stretch, memorably digging out a two-handed backhand from the tramlines and landing it on the last millimetre of Cilic’s baseline. Cilic wouldn’t go without a fight. He summoned all his courage to hold serve at 3-4 and 4-5, but Paire’s explosive return game sealed the match.
Janko Tipsarevic was tested by Go Soeda, two similar players seeing who had better command of the wholesome baseline style, before the Serb prevailed 6-2, 6-4 in an hour. “It was more difficult than the score,” Tipsarevic said. “I knew that I was playing well and so even though I went down two-love, I knew I could lift my game.”
The results (quarterfinals): 5-Benoit Paire (Fra) bt 3-Marin Cilic (Cro) 6-4, 1-6, 7-5; Aljaz Bedene (Slo) bt 4-Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) 6-2, 7-6(6); 2-Janko Tipsarevic (Srb) bt 8-Go Soeda (Jpn) 6-2, 6-4; Roberto Bautista Agut (Esp) bt 1-Tomas Berdych (Cze) 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.