By John Delong
No thanks to a freakish injury, Alexandr Dolgopolov had to knuckle down – literally – to reach the semifinals of the Winston-Salem Open on Thursday.
Dolgopolov endured extreme heat, humidity and a gash on the knuckle of his left thumb to beat Yen-Hsun Lu 7-6 (2), 6-3 in the first quarterfinal match of the afternoon on Center Court.
The No. 10 seed cut the knuckle when his follow-through on a forehand accidentally cracked his left hand, while serving at 2-2 of the second set. He required medical attention, went back out and was broken, but broke back immediately and then went on to take back control of the match.
He said the pain wasn’t as bad as the distraction the cut caused.
"The thumb is so-so," Dolgopolov said. "I couldn’t feel it much for a few games. It wasn’t really that painful but it was distracting to play with. Not hard pain, but it distracts you and throws your concentration off a bit.
"Things like that happen. I’ve never had that happen before, but you can fall down or hit the knee and you just have to deal with it and try to get back as fast as you can in the match."
The victory moved Dolgopolov into Friday’s semifinals against the winner of the second quarterfinal of the day between No. 7 seed Fernando Verdasco and No. 15 seed Gael Monfils.
It marks Dolgopolov’s first trip to the Winston-Salem Open semifinals after he reached the quarterfinals and lost in each of the first two years.
He had come to Winston-Salem having won just one match in his previous five tournaments since Wimbledon, as a series of health issues had taken their toll in recent weeks.
"It’s great to be in the semifinals," Dolgopolov said. "I didn’t do a lot of results this year and I lost first rounds the last few weeks and was not feeling very well, so it’s great to be back and fit especially before the Open."
There were no breaks in the first set. Lu double-faulted to open the tie-break to give Dolgopolov his first mini-break, and then Dolgopolov would eventually win the last four points.
Bouncing back after the injury and being down a break was the key to the second set. Ultimately, Dolgopolov converted on two of seven break opportunities in the second set, and saved two break points himself.
Dolgopolov said that the best thing he did during the match was keep Lu, who is currently ranked No. 62, out of rhythm.
"I gave him a lot of slices in the first set and he was really playing well against them, and then when I changed the game and started giving him flat shots he missed a bit," Dolgopolov said. "That’s the kind of player you need to break up his game a bit because he can play really solid, and then it pays off sometime."
Dolgopolov, who has been as high as No. 13 in 2012 but has fallen to No. 39 this week, has not had any past success against either Monfils or Verdasco. Monfils won at the Australian Open earlier this year in their only previous meeting, while Verdasco holds a 2-0 edge including a split-set win at Eastbourne this summer.
"It’s obviously going to be a tough match against either of them, especially if the conditions are like today," Dolgopolov said. "They both serve well and play solid on the baseline. I’ll just need to show a good game and play my game instead of theirs. The main thing is to hold my serve and try to break against those guys."