By John Delong
Roberto Bautista Agut feels good vibes playing in the Winston-Salem Open, and that was clearly the case again on Thursday night.
The top-seeded Spaniard roared into the semifinals with an impressive 6-2, 7-6 (3) victory over Taylor Fritz in the quarterfinals, earning himself a spot in Friday’s semifinals.
Bautista Agut, a finalist here last year before losing a three-set heartbreaker to Pablo Carreno Busta for the title, is now 9-2 all-time in three visits to the Winston-Salem Open, and he said that his past success is having an impact on his play this year.
“It gives you confidence that you can play well,” Bautista Agut said. “You play the final the year before so it makes me feel more comfortable and more confident. Today was nice to play on Center Court. We had a large crowd, the conditions were good, and so I really enjoyed playing there tonight."
“I am happy to be here. I lost first round in Cincinnati and I didn’t want to spend 14 days practicing in New York, so I think it is best to be here in Winston-Salem.”
After receiving a first-round bye, Bautisa Agut had previously defeated Dusan Lajovic in the second round and Marcos Baghdatis in the third round. He came into the WSO at No. 15 in the current ATP World Tour rankings.
He wasted little time taking control against Fritz, the 19-year- old Californian who was the last remaining American player in the field. Bautista Agut broke Fritz in the very first game, then added another break later in the set for an emphatic start to the night.
Fritz needed a medical timeout for a leg injury after the fifth game of the second set, but neither player could even get to a break point in the set. Bautista Agut then jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreak and was never in trouble from there.
“I think it was a great match,” Bautista Agut said. “I played very solid and returned very well. I’m playing better and better, and I’m happy with the way I’m playing. I played very aggressive. I wanted to make him play a lot of balls, a lot of returns, and I think I did a good job.”
Fritz, a wildcard who had defeated Malek Jaziri, 10 th -seeded Yuichi Sugita and seventh-seeded Paolo Lorenzi in previous rounds, said that the leg injury did not impact his play after he received treatment.
He gave all the credit to Bautista Agut.
“No, no, no, he just played better than me,” Fritz said.
But he was pleased with his performance this week, which is almost certain to push him higher than his current No. 116 ranking.
“It’s been a pretty good week,” Fritz said. “I’m not going to complain winning three rounds with a Top 100 player and two Top 50 players. It’s good to just put those matches together going into the Open, because those are the kind of people you’re going to potentially go up against in the first and second round of the Open. So I feel really good. I would have liked to have won today, but I think I just started off a little too slow and didn’t play well enough in the tiebreaker.”
In other Stadium Court matches, qualifier Kyle Edmund beat American Steve Johnson, the No. 6 seed, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3; Damir Dzumhur beat 13 th -seeded Hyeon Chung 6-4, 6-2; and Jan-Lennard Struff beat 14 th -seeded Borna Coric 6-4, 7-6 (2).
Edmund is looking to become the third player in WSO history to go through qualifying and make it all the way to the finals. He has now won six matches in six days.
This wasn’t the most artistic performance of the week, but he was pleased nonetheless.
“It’s good to win,” Edmund said. “I just keep playing matches. I think today actually by playing all those matches help get me through today because my level wasn’t as good as it has been. I was a bit too much on the unforced errors. But it’s good. Sometimes you have to find ways to get through and I was able to do that today.”
Edmund broke Johnson twice to win the second set and level the match, and then came the real turning point. On the first game of the third set, he fought back from 0-40 to hold serve, and then he quickly broke Johnson in the next game to take all the momentum for good.
“Obviously you’re not fresh like you’ve just come off holiday,” he said of playing six matches in six days. “But you adapt to playing matches. Today I didn’t feel I was as energetic as much as the past few days, but you’re not always going to be 100 percent. I’ve lost matches in the past before where I haven’t felt great, and I’ve needed to learn how to win without feeling good. Today I think that was an example of that.”
Edmund was a late wildcard entry into qualifying after losing in the first round of both Cincinnati and Montreal in the previous two weeks.
“I’m just doinmg thignms better in the matches than I was before,” he said. “I’m tidying up some things. I haven’t hit so many loose shots. I’ve defended well in the corners, making a few extra balls. But it was not like I wasn’t playing well before I got here. I’ve beat some good players. I lost to some good players. So I just wanted to turn those losses into wins and that’s what I’ve been able to do this week.”
Johnson was clearly distraught afterward. He had nine double-faults and got only 47 percent of his first serves in, so he couldn’t find his serve all day.
“I played terrible,” Johnson said. “Enough said. I just played terrible.”
On the bright side, Johnson said he was encouraged by his play most of the week, however. He had not won a summer hard-court match all summer when he got to Winston-Salem and felt good about making it to the fourth round.
“I felt like I got better this week,” he said. “Just played terrible in the last two sets and that sucks. But, you know, I get another chance to rebound next week in New York.”
Dzumhur, a 25-year- old from Bosnia-Herzegovina who is currently ranked No. 67, chuckled at his success so far in this tournament.
He played in a Challenger event in Santo Domingo last week, reached the finals, and didn’t arrive in Winston-Salem until 2 a.m. Monday morning. He then went out and beat Denis Istomin late that afternoon.
Since then he has rattled off wins over ninth-seeded Gilles Simon, Horacio Zeballos and Chung.
“I think the best results come when you sometimes don’t expect it,” Dzumhur said. “I came here without any pressure and was just playing round by round, and was just getting better and better. So it’s great being here. Especially the win over Gilles Simon was a confidence builder, because he’s a former Top 10 player. So I can’t wait playing semis.”
Perhaps the wildest thing about his success this week is that he hadn’t played a hardcourt event all summer. The trip to the finals last week came on clay.
“It looked like a stupid decision but in the end it was a good decision,” Dzumhur said. “I’m switching surfaces but it is working out well. Last year I played Cincinnati really bad. I didn’t like the conditions there. So this year I said let’s just try something different. I also thought I could just get a rest in a tournament in Santo Domingo, and it turned out it wasn’t rest at all.”
Struff continued what has been a remarkable feat and turnaround for him this week. He entered the tournament 2-12 in tiebreaks for the year, and has gone 5-1 in tiebreaks this week. He won the second-set tiebreak handily against Coric, racing to a 5-1 lead.
“I’m pretty happy with the match today,” Struff said. “Borna is a very tough opponent, he fights for every point, so I’m happy I won it. I played good tennis today. I went into the week 2-12 in tiebreaks, and at some point you have to change it, right? You can’t go like 2-20 or something like that. It’s better to change it.”
This will be Struff’s fourth trip to the semifinals, and his first since Metz in 2014.
In the doubles semifinals, the second-seeded team of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau beat Brian Baker and Nikola Mektic 6-1, 6-0; and the team of Julio Peralta and Horacio Zeballos beat the third-seeded team of Mate Pavic and Nenad Zimonjic 7-6 (6), 1-6, 10-8..
The doubles final is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday, with the singles semifinals in prime time.