By John Delong, Winston-Salem Open
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Pablo Carreno Busta has been knocking on the door all year in search of his first career ATP World Tour title. The 25-year-old Spaniard put himself in position again on Friday night when he moved into Saturday’s final at the Winston-Salem Open with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) semifinal victory over John Millman.
Carreno Busta was brilliant early in winning the first set, then fought off four set points in the second set and eventually won the tie-break after being down 4-2.
He’ll face fellow Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the final, after the second-seeded Bautista Agut pulled out a 7-5, 6-7 (2), 6-2 victory over ninth-seeded Viktor Troicki in an afternoon semifinal.
Carreno Busta said afterward that he is excited at the prospect of winning his first career title, after reaching the finals at Estoril and Sao Paulo earlier this year.
“I hope my time has come,” Carreno Busta said. “I hope. I am fighting. I am trying. I am practicing hard to win my first tournament. But it’s not an obsession, you know. It’s my third final. Both finals, I lost but I played good. I lost but I was happy with my play. So tomorrow I will try to play well, do my best. If I win, of course better than if I lose, but Bautista is playing well, so you never know.”
Carreno Busta came into the WSO as the 16th seed, ranked No. 49 after being as high as No. 43 in May.
He’s the only player in the field that has not dropped a set, beating Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 7-5 in the second round, third-seeded Pablo Cuevas 6-3, 7-6 (1) in the third round, and Andrey Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
“This tournament is really good preparation for the US Open,” Carreno Busta said. “I play four matches and tomorrow will be my fifth match. I will try to win it and of course I hope to win, but if I lose I will continue to focus on my game because I am playing good and I have confidence. I have chances to make a really good result.”
Carreno Busta broke Millman in the very first game of the match, and his serve was strong throughout the first set.
Millman then roared back and won four straight games at one point in the second set to go up 5-3, and he had set points four times in the ninth game. But the 27-year-old Australian, who came into the tournament unseeded and ranked No. 81, couldn’t seal the deal. Carreno Busta fought back to break, and eventually the two went to a second-set tie-break.
Again Millman was up a mini-break at 4-2 early in the tie-break, but again Carreno Busta fought back and won the last three points of the match to close it out.
“I think it’s a key to fight all the time,” Carreno Busta said of the four set points. “You never know when he can make a mistake or you can start playing like at the beginning, so you always have to fight. I continued fighting all the time tonight.”
Millman was playing in the first ATP World Tour semifinal of his career. He was philosophical afterward.
“Pablo played really well, especially in the first set he didn’t let me really get into it,” Millman said. “The second set could have gone anyone’s way. I fought as hard as I could and it wasn’t quite to be tonight.”
Millman had upset top-seeded Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals for his first-ever win over a Top 20 opponent. He had opened the tournament by beating Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round, then beat eighth-seeded Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round and Bjorn Fratangelo in the third round.
“It’s been great,” Millman said. I’ve had to battle all week. I knew I had good tennis in me. All summer I think I’ve been playing pretty well so I take a lot of confidence out of this going forward. I’ll live to fight another day. I’ll learn a lot from this, gain confidence from this. I was probably a couple of points away from having my teeth really in the match. So it gives you a lot of confidence moving forward, and I’ll take it from here.”
Carreno Busta and Bautista Agut have played only once previously, and it was a classic five-setter with Bautista Agut prevailing 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 at last year’s US Open.
“I remember it was really tough, five sets, four hours,” Carreno Busta said. “I was tired and I lost. But this is a different tournament, three sets. It’s a different moment and I think I am playing better now. Maybe he’s playing a little better too but we’ll see.”