Julien Benneteau’s amazing run at the Winston-Salem Open got even more amazing on Friday night.
The 29-year-old Frenchman fought off two match points and rallied to beat 10th-seeded Robin Haase 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 to move into Saturday afternoon’s finals against John Isner.
It was Benneteau’s eighth victory in seven days here at the Winston-Salem Open, after he was forced to go through qualifying last weekend.
Benneteau danced on the Harold and Mildred Southern Stadium court after his victory, and then quipped about meeting Isner in Saturday’s final.
"I’m going to make a call to my friend Nicolas Mahut," Benneteau said, referring to Isner’s fifth-set 70-68 win at Wimbledon last year. "He played him for 11 hours. He can give me some tricks."
For sure, Benneteau will be a decided underdog against the fourth-seeded Isner, who beat top seed Andy Roddick on Friday.
But in this tournament, being an underdog is nothing new. Benneteau has beaten three seeded players en route to the finals.
"I have nothing to lose," Benneteau said. "Go for it. It’s a final. You know, it’s sports. Nothing is written in evidence or else all the big guys would win. The Yankees would win every World Series and the Lakers the NBA Finals and the Patriots the Super Bowl. But it’s sports, so you have some surprises."
Benneteau ultimately pulled out the third-set tiebreaker by winning the final four points of the match.
He was down 6-4 in the tie-breaker, facing two match points, but held his serve to fight off one match point, then won the next point when Haase was long with a forehand. Haase then double-faulted to give Benneteau his first match point, and Benneteau won the final point when another Haase forehand missed wide.
"At 6-5 down in the tiebreaker in the third set, I thought to myself, ‘I cannot lose this point, I cannot lose this point’ and then I said, ‘No, I have to win this point,’" Benneteau said. "He made a mistake, so after that the momentum is changing and the pressure is on him, and he made another mistake."
Earlier in the third set, Benneteau broke to stay alive with Haase serving for the match leading 5-3.
Haase was also up a break in the second set before Benneteau rallied.
"I took the lead in the second set and actually I thought he would give up," Haase said. "He was rubbing his shoulder and his leg like he was tired. And then I started to not hit the ball anymore. And then I let him come back. Actually, the same thing happened in the third. I was up 5-2 and I needed to attack and I didn’t."
Haase was disappointed, but philosophical about his week in Winston-Salem. He beat James Blake and third-seeded Alexandr Dolgopolov along the way, and was happy about that.
"I am happy I won a few matches here," Haase said. "Of course it’s ugly to lose a match like this because I should have won this maybe even in two sets, and it’s kinda frustrating. But also it was a great effort from him. He played so many matches and he’s so tired it’s amazing that he’s still going."
Benneteau, who will be seeking the first ATP World Tour title of his career on Saturday, admitted he was running on fumes at this point. But he said that will force him to play relaxed.
"I am tired," he said. "I have some aches and pains. But it’s normal after eight matches in seven days on hardcourt. With the heat and humidity here, it’s tough. But the good thing is I’m more relaxed because of that, almost nonchalant. Usually I’m not like this. I’m more to show my emotions, but I have to save maximum energy. So this is a good thing."