There was plenty of heat during Wednesday’s afternoon session at the Winston-Salem Open, and it wasn’t just the weather.
The action on court included two scorching three set clashes that spilled well over into the beginning over the evening.
First up in the afternoon were two of the oldest players remaining in the draw: Frenchman Richard Gasquet, 36, and American Steve Johnson, 31.
The two veterans were competing for the first spot in the quarterfinals. Gasquet has made it in his last two appearance in the Piedmont, and Johnson has two semis and a final to his credit.
Gasquet got off to a blazing start taking the first four games, but Johnson would rally and managed to steal the first set in a tie breaker.
“It was very tough, mentally, for me to lose that first set. Stevie is a great player and has a great record in Winston-Salem,” said Gasquet in his post-match interview.
The second set saw no breaks of serve through eight games. Johnson’s first serve left him making fewer than 30% in the set and, in fact, double faulted on set point, allowing Gasquet to level the match.
Gasquet did not let off the gas, going up a break for 3-1, and that was all he needed. The Frenchman took the third set with a final score of 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-3.
“You have to love tennis to keeping doing it at this age. I am just happy to be here and happy to keep playing matches.”
He is the only man left to have previously made it to the quarterfinals in Winston-Salem.
Anxious to keep playing matches was Maxime Cressy, one of only two Americans left in the round of 16. The no. 4 seed faced off against the 14 seed Lorenzo Sonego of Italy.
The two were neck and neck throughout the first set with no breaks of serve, but the Cressy serve-and-volley style went awry on two key points in the tie break which handed the set to Sonego.
Cressy remained undeterred and secured an immediate break in the opening game of the second set. He would break again to close a tidy second set 6-2.
The third set began the same was as the second with an early break for Cressy, but Sonego wouldn’t let the American consolidate and the two locked horns to force a matchbreaker that Cressy would dominate with his big serve and touch volleys.
The 6-foot-6-in 25 year old hit 47 winners, won 85% of his first serve points and 74% of points at the net – exactly the numbers he needed to win.
“My style is not a style that very few people have encouraged me to stick with, but I’m very thankful to my coaches. I have a lot of belief,” Cressy said.
Cressy makes his first quarterfinal in his Winston-Salem debut.
“I am grateful my family and friends were able to make it. I have some family that’s from North Carolina, so I’m really glad to be competing here. I hope to keep doing that in the future,” Cressy added.
The first matchup at night featured wild card Dominic Thiem of Austria and the no. 13 seed Jack Draper from England.
Draper never gave Thiem a chance to get his teeth into the match, winning five straight games before the former world no. 3 even got on the board, taking the opening set 6-1.
Thiem seemed to get more of a groove in the second set but could not make inroads on the Draper lefty serve.
“I felt like I was really solid on serve. I never faced a break point. It was tough though, especially in that second set because he was coming up with some really great shots,” Draper told the Winston-Salem crowd.
The Englishman says he feels quite at home at the Wake Forest University Tennis Complex.
“I love the courts here. I love the conditions. I feel at home here, even though I’ve never been here because my brother went to [college] here,” he added.
The Brit has crashed through the rankings since the end of last season’s, climbing from no. 259 to 55 as of this week.
Tennis fans and pundits believe he is one to watch.
The day rounded out past midnight as the qualifier Marc-Andrea Huesler dismissed the defending champion Ilya Ivashka at nearly 1:00am, Thursday morning. This sets up a clash with Draper during the night session.
Doubles quarterfinal action around grounds saw the partnership of Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland take down the top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in an absolute nailbiter 6-7(3) 7-6(5), 10-7.
They face Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara who ousted Franko Skugor and Francisco Cabral 6-3, 6-4.
The American duo of Robert Galloway and Alex Lawson, who took a wild card into the draw, pushed the 3 seed to the brink but fell to Jamie Murray and his partner Matthew Ebden 6-4, 3-6, 10-7.
Doubles semifinal matches are slated for Court 2, beginning at 3pm.