TENNIS / Bautista Agut bests Paire in the second semifinal
Janko Tipsarevic survived a severe, near forensic, examination of his game on Saturday to advance to the final of the Aircel Chennai Open.
The second-seeded Serb was stretched by Aljaz Bedene, who had earlier in the tournament conquered Robin Haase and Stanislas Wawrinka. Tipsarevic eventually won 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. In Sunday’s final, he’ll face Roberto Bautista Agut, who confirmed his spot with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 victory over fifth-seeded Benoit Paire.
The 23-year-old Bedene, playing his first ATP World Tour semifinal, didn’t seem fazed by the occasion or the opponent. Stationing himself asymmetrically, left of centre, the Slovenian hit his forehand inside-out to pin Tipsarevic on his backhand.
The tactic did two things: it forced Tipsarevic to hit his backhand down the line to avoid being stuck in an unequal rally; after he had missed two such strokes, the World No. 9 grew tentative and retreated behind the baseline, giving up court position.
Creating an angle
Bedene could now create more of an angle, further hurting Tipsarevic. So successful was the tactic that when Tipsarevic attempted to save a break-point at 4-All, 40-Ad, and he had a short ball to put away, in trying to avoid the Bedene forehand, he pushed it wide.
Tipsarevic had to find answers — the short cross-court backhand was an option, as was attempting the down-the-line again. Or he could position himself much as Bedene had, and change direction first, but this time with his forehand.
Curiously, none of this happened. Sure Tipsarevic hit two short cross-court backhands over sets two and three and he had better success with what Andre Agassi calls the money shot, the two-hander down the line.
But this was a case of Tipsarevic not so much addressing these questions as switching the question paper altogether.
He took a little off his first serve, just enough to improve consistency but not lose effect, and used serve-and-forehand patterns. His serve taken care of, Tipsarevic kept more balls in during return games and occasionally stepped into the court and hit with more intent.
Bedene began erring, showing why, for all his potential, he isn’t top-50 yet.
The third set, despite the score-line, was a tense affair. Bedene found his forehand after it had gone walkabout; Tipsarevic, searching for the double break, began to tighten. There was plenty of drama in game seven: two net-cords that had Bedene apologising profusely, a racquet-rimmed overhead that allowed Tipsarevic to hold a tough service game.
That settled the contest. Had Bedene managed the break, the decider would have been back on serve and Tipsarevic will have felt the anguish of an opportunity lost. Instead Tipsarevic played freer, broke Bedene, and entered his second final in as many years.
The second semifinal, between Paire and Bautista Agut, was typically unpredictable. Agut, in his victory over Tomas Berdych, had shown that he can defuse tall, explosive ball-strikers with placement and depth of stroke. But Paire isn’t the orthodox power-hitter who always needs space to set up: he made scarcely believable strokes on the run, getting to the ball in that straight-backed, loose-limbed manner of his, and snapping the forearm and the wrist; and then he fluffed regulation strokes when he had the ball, the opponent, and the court at his mercy.
The result was a match of wild momentum swings, barely any rhythm, and moments that had the crowd gasping and laughing in turn. This hadn’t the tactical underpinning of the first contest, but it made more spectacular viewing. It was decided by mistakes — Agut was more solid and Paire, unlike against Cilic, didn’t detonate at the right time.
“My best victories in my life have come here in Chennai,” Agut said after making his first ATP final. “Yesterday my first win against one top-ten player, tomorrow I play next top-ten player in first final of my life. I just have to focus myself and believe, no?”
Singles semifinals: 2-Janko Tipsarevic (Srb) bt Aljaz Bedene (Slo) 4-6, 6-2, 6-2; Roberto Bautista Agut (Esp) bt 5-Benoit Paire (Fra) 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Doubles: Semifinal: Andre Begemann (Ger) & Martin Emmrich (Ger) bt Sanchai Ratiwatana (Tha) & Sonchat Ratiwatana (Tha) 7-6 (3), 6-4.
Friday’s quarterfinal: Sanchai & Sonchat Ratiwatana bt Somdev Devvarman (Ind) & Sergiy Stakhovsky (Ukr) 6-3, 7-5.
Order of play on Sunday
CENTRE COURT (5 p.m. start): Singles final: 2-J. Tipsarevic (Srb) v R. Bautista Agut (Esp).