Argentine Sebastian Baez extended his match-winning streak to nine on Friday when he survived a gruelling battle against top seed Borna Coric in the Winston-Salem Open semi-finals.
The 22-year-old, who won the ATP 250 event in Kitzbühel three weeks ago, defeated Coric 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-6(2) after three hours, 19 minutes. Baez dropped just one point behind his serve in the opening set and displayed all-court coverage as he struck the ball confidently to reach his first tour-level final on hard courts.
“[The crowd’s] energy was amazing,” Baez said in his on-court interview. “Of course [I am] tired, but happy because it was a great battle. Happy to be in the final.”
After a fast start, it seemed Baez was going to cruise in the second set as well. Baez held a 3-1 lead before he suffered a nosebleed that stopped play, forcing him to visit with the physio. He then was broken in his ensuing service game before Coric raised his level to win an exciting one-hour, 23-minute second set.
“I think at that time, the match changed,” Baez said of the nosebleed. “Every point, he was better than me. After three hours, I think I have to take a rest and be focussed on tomorrow. I am happy but I have one more match.
“The fact that the match was so long and so physical and that I could have won it gives me a lot of confidence. I'm going to do my best tomorrow."
As the match wore on, both players showed great stamina as they endured lengthy rallies, with Baez often playing deep beyond the baseline. Coric came forward to pressure Baez, but it was the the sixth seed who held his nerve in the closing stages of the match.
Though Baez won his maiden Lexus ATPHead2Head meeting against Coric, the Croatian will have another crack at the Argentine when they meet next week in the US Open first round.
“After tomorrow's final I will have a few days to recover, to train, to try to adapt," Baez said. "I want to do my best in the US Open. Today's game is a great preparation. But for now I have to be focused on tomorrow's game”.
At World No. 35 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, the Buenos Aires native will next aim for his fourth tour-level trophy against Jiri Lehecka, who advanced to the ATP 250 final after third seed Sebastian Korda withdrew following an ankle injury he suffered in Thursday’s quarter-final.
This week marks the first time Baez has won more than two consecutive tour-level matches on hard court. After ousting Daniel Elahi Galan in the first round, Baez has continued his run by ousting three of the Top 10 seeds: Aleksandar Vukic, Laslo Djere and Coric.
Lehecka will be competing in his first tour-level final. The 21-year-old Czech is at No. 30 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, securing himself a new career-high on Monday.