By John Delong
The most bizarre match of this year’s Winston-Salem Open didn’t take place on Stadium Court.
It took place on Court 3, as David Goffin endured two lengthy rain delays and finally outlasted Lukasz Kubot in a third-set tiebreaker, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6 (5).
The win moved the 21-year-old Belgian into a Thursday quarterfinal against defending champion John Isner, and assured that he will improve on his current career-best No. 58 ranking going into the US Open.
"It was not an easy match today with the rain and I was feeling a little bit injured, so it was tough," Goffin said. "The third set, it was a thriller. We were both so nervous. So it was very difficult."
The rains actually helped Goffin and hurt him at various points of the day.
The first rain delay came with Goffin leading 6-3, 1-3 and Kubot serving, and according to Goffin it helped because he could get treatment on a right hamstring that he pulled in the first game of the second set.
"I was playing so good in the first set, serving good, feeling good, and then the first game of the second set I was feeling the back of my right leg, and it was not easy for me," he said. "When it started to rain I went in with my physio and he did a good job. Lukasz was playing good in the second set, though."
The second rain delay came with Goffin one point away from winning, with Kubot serving at 30-40 and Goffin leading 5-4. Kubot saved that match point, and the two went back and forth, back and forth, until Kubot eventually held. They were headed for a tiebreaker shortly thereafter.
Goffin went up two mini-breaks in the tiebreaker, but again Kubot fought back before Goffin got a third mini-break and served out the match.
"I had two match points before the rain delay and then I had one more after, and it’s never easy to come back and win the last point. He was serving good, so it was tough."
The trip to the quarterfinals marks Goffin’s best event of the summer. He started the year ranked No. 174, won a Challenger in the spring, and then burst onto the scene by reaching the fourth round at Roland Garros before losing to Roger Federer. He backed that up by reaching the third round at Wimbledon, but lost in the first round at the London Olympics and then did not make it through qualifying last week at Cincinnati.
"It’s a good tournament for me here, quarterfinal," he said. "Now I have three matches, one more tomorrow, and it’s good preparation for the US Open. I will try to do my best here tomorrow against John and at the US Open. It’s my first time in the Main Draw so I will try to do my best to go as far as possible."
Isner, the third seed, defeated 13th-seeded Jurgen Melzer 6-4, 6-3 in the final match of the night on Stadium Court. The two didn’t get started until 9 p.m. because of the completion of earlier matches and the second rain delay, but once it did Isner seemed in command throughout.
He got the break he needed in the ninth game to close out the first, then broke again in the second game of the second set and was home free from there. He had 14 aces, served at 63 percent and never faced a break point.
"It’s never easy playing at night, when pretty much everyone else still alive in the tournament is eating a nice steak dinner and you’ve got to grind out a match, and especially with the rain," Isner said. "So it made it a little difficult and it’s going to be quite a late night, but I have a lot of time to recover, so I’ll be fine."
Isner felt he played much better than he did in beating Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on Tuesday.
"I played well, I served well, I thought I hit my second serve especially well," Isner said. "It was just a break each set, and a lot of my matches that’s all it takes. I would have liked to have converted more break points, I was 2 of 10 or something like that, but all in all I’m very happy with the match and very happy that I’m still alive."
In matches that started Wednesday afternoon and then were interrupted by a two-hour rain delay, top-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Sergiy Stakhovsky 7-6 (1), 6-4; second-seeded Tomas Berdych beat Jarko Nieminen 6-3, 6-2; and sixth-seeded Marcel Granollers beat Ernests Gulbis 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
Tsonga continued to round into form after missing Cincinnati last week with a leg injury and losing his first match in Toronto the week before. He dominated the first-set tiebreaker by winning the first five points, then got his lone break at 4-4 of the second set and served out the match. He and the qualifier Stakhovsky were tied 5-5 in the first set when the rains came.
"I feel OK because I feel I have good legs, I’m moving well, I’m physically strong, I hit the ball well," Tsonga said. "Now I have to be a bit more focused on the important points. I was not good enough on the important points, the break points."
Tsonga defeated Thomasz Bellucci in the first round.
Berdych was in complete control, up 6-3, 4-2 when the rains came, and so he made short work of Nieminen after resumption of play.
"It was a good match," Berdych said. "It was an improvement over my first match. That’s always important and always good. I hope to bring my best performance which I hope is still a lot of improvement, but it was a solid game today."
Berdych defeated Alex Bogomolov Jr. in the first round.well and I thought I returned great," Querrey said. "It was one of my better returning matches. He’s got a tough serve, especially being left-handed, and I thought I returned well with the forehand and backhand, especially on his first serve. When I can do that, I’m pretty tough to beat."s Gulbis beat Kevin Anderson 6-4, 7-6 (2), and No. 6 seed Marcel Granollers beat Ryan Harrison 6-4, 6-2.