January 7, 2017 10:58:25 pm
The clock was moving near the midnight mark but the crowd – 300 or so – had stuck around to watch tennis. Mikhail Youzhny – veteran of Russian tennis – was on the surge and led 6-2, 4-1 over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut. The Russian was just two games from victory when the tide turned.
Things were going in the Spaniard’s way now. He was dictating play and the momentum. The number two seed wasn’t going to go out without a fight. And battle it out he did. Enough to pick up a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win and keep hopes of starting the 2017 on a positive note alive.
Earlier, Benoit Paire of France had made easy work of Britain’s Alijaz Bedene to race off to a 6-3, 6-0. With their respective wins, the semi-final for the Chennai Open was set.
But on Saturday, the momentum and course of things switched places. It was Agut dictating play, sure of the plan and the strategy. He was keeping the ball in and staying consistent in his play while forcing Paire into errors on the forehand – going behind him on more than one occasion. Paire, barring a few instances of brilliance, played catch-up and looked to be reeled into a hole by the Spaniard from Castellon. The scoreline would reflect the dominance for Agut even as the crowd would try desperately to prolong the outcome. But, in the end, Agut would run off a 6-3, 6-3 victor in 68 minutes and extend his unbeaten streak over the French to 6-0.
In 2016, Paire reached four semis – including in Chennai – and Saturday was another example of the gap that needed to be filled to ensure he goes a step further to win his second ATP title.
From 3-3 in the opening set, Agut would win seven straight games in what was another show of drop in concentration by the Frenchman.
Down 3-4 in the opening set, the 47th ranked Frenchman would make an unbelievable miss on the volley and then send a forehand wide to give Agut a much needed break.
Serving for the opener, Agut would squander two set points before seeing Paire make an error in what was an unforced error riddled play by him on the night.
In just half an hour, the first set was complete and the poor play by Paire would see him slam his racket twice before kicking a water bottle thus earning a warning.
If the first set had gone to 3-3, the second would be a one-sided contest from the word go. After a long rally that saw both players go side-to-side, a narrow forehand miss would hand the World No 14 the break. He would add yet another break on next Paire service game to put the match beyond all doubts.
Paire’s frustration level would grow even further at this juncture as he would tell the chair umpire, “Every time I serve you tell me to wait, wait, wait!,” clearly upset the noise from the stands – a point he would make later too.
Agut would lose his serve in the sixth game to give the crowd something to cheer about and hope for a lengthier battle.
However after an hour and eight minutes, with yet another break of serve and yet another error by Paire, Agut would make his second Chennai Open final.
Medvedev makes first ATP final
In the final, he would play young and upcoming Russian Daniil Medvedev who came from a set and match point down over Dudi Sela to make his way into the Sunday’s showdown.
The 20-year-old would down the Israeli 4-6, 7-6, 6-2 at the SDAT Stadium in two hours and six minutes while saving a match point in the tenth game.
The 6’6” Russian would at times move gingerly, rub his shoulder and call for a trainer in the second set but still play high percentage shots World No 99 Medvedev will be making his first ATP final appearance after making the quarters of ATP 250 event in Moscow in 2016.
Sela looked to be in complete control for most of the match with his sliced backhands giving Medvedev problems in the opening set and then having the Russian undone with consistent returns.
The second set would go into the tiebreaker where Medvedev would play the better of the two by forcing the 31-year-old Sela into errors to pick up mini-breaks at will.
The third set would start with Medvedev breaking Sela’s serve and then almost having his own broken before saving three break points and holding it out with a massive 207 kmph serve.
With two hours played, and another break of serve in his grasp, Medvedev would need just one chance to close matters out and he would do so in style – with a 206 kmph ace.
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