By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - It will go down as one of the most-bizarre matches in the Winston-Salem Open’s six-year history.
Second-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut advanced to Saturday’s final with a 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-2 win over ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki in an afternoon semifinal on Stadium Court, but not before being dragged through an emotional wringer.
The 28-year-old Spaniard seemed ready to close out the match easily after winning the first set and racing to a 5-0 lead in the second set. But Troicki stormed back by winning the next five games and ultimately the tie-break, and Bautista Agut needed to regroup and take control again in the third. He wound up winning the final four games.
Bautista Agut admitted that he got a little tight in letting the second set slip away, but he was pleased with the way he responded and regrouped in the third set.
“It was very disappointing losing the second set after leading 5-0, but the good thing, the thing that gives me a lot of confidence, was that I could recover and get rid of the bad feelings. I’m happy that I could win the match.”
Bautista Agut will now face the winner of Friday night’s second semifinal match between 16th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta and unseeded John Millman.
He’s looking for his fifth career ATP World Tour title, and his second of 2016. He has already won at Auckland and Sofia earlier this year, working his way up to No. 17 in the latest ATP World Tour rankings.
This will be Bautista Agut’s first final on American soil.
He needed to survive three-setters in his first two matches this week, beating Aljaz Bedene 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in the second round and 14th-seeded Marcos Baghdatis 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the third round. His only easy victory all week came over Yen-Hsun Lu 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
“It was not an easy way to get to the final,” Bautista Agut said. “I had to work really hard every day, and every single match was difficult. But I’m happy now. I have beat many good players and I can play the final tomorrow. I wanted to come here to play some matches before the US Open and that’s what I am doing. I played already four good matches and now I am looking forward to the final.”
The second set was as bizarre as any set in tournament history as it went from looking like a possible bagel to an incredible rally by Troicki.
Troicki freely admitted that he thought he was toast trailing 5-0, before breaking Bautista Agut twice.
“That was a really crazy comeback in the second set,” Troicki said. “I started hitting unbelievable and he started choking, and it gave me a chance to come back. I think he was choking a bit because he was under pressure or something.”
Bautista Agut didn’t disagree, but he was pleased with the way he handled the adversity. He got the break he needed to go up 3-2 in the third set, and then he went on to break Troicki again later for good measure.
“Yes, I was tight, I was tight,” Bautista Agut said. “I think it’s a thing normally everyone stays a bit tight to close the match, but today I couldn’t control my emotions (in the second set). I work a lot mentally. Mentally is one of the best things and one of my best strengths. I think today I did a great job of recovering after such a disappointing moment in the second set.”
Bautista Agut acknowledged that he was probably the fresher player after he breezed on Thursday and Troicki had to pull out a tough three-setter against 15th-seeded Fernando Verdasco. Troicki and had to come back on short rest from his night back on Thursday.
The heat and humidity, he said, affected both players.
“The heat was maybe the hottest day of the year,” Bautista Agut said. “We were both tired. I think the conditions were very strong. The heat was unbelievable. We were both tired, but that’s a normal thing playing three sets in these conditions.”
Troicki, currently ranked No. 35, admitted that he ran out of steam in the third set.
“I think in the third set my physics went down,” he said. “It was a very hot day, tough conditions. We were both struggling with the heat. It was tough to play. In the end, he definitely played better in the third set than the second and came out with the good shots, and I was flat.
“So I’m disappointed, but I’m proud that I fought in that second set and came back. He’s a great player, a great competitor. He will never give up. So today in this heat, he was more ready for it, and he won.”
Troicki had defeated Kyle Edmund 6-3, 7-5 in the second round, sixth-seeded Sam Querrey 6-2, 7-6 (5) in the third round, and Verdasco 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the quarterfinals.