By John Delong
Jurgen Melzer has flown under the radar a bit at this year’s Winston-Salem Open as others have commanded the spotlight.
But the 32-year-old Austrian is certainly in the spotlight now, after advancing to Saturday’s finals with a solid 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Sam Querrey in the semifinals on Friday night.
Melzer came to the WSO having lost in the first round at both Montreal and Cincinnati, so he wasn’t on anyone’s list of pre-tournament favorites as the No. 9 seed. But he has gained momentum daily and was clearly the better player in all facets against Querrey.
Melzer will face No. 15 seed Gael Monfils in the finals.
"When I got here I felt like I just needed matches," Melzer said. "I got through the first round which was a tough one, kind of played a tactical good second round, and then all of sudden you’re in the tournament and you’re confident. I mean, I know that I can play, so it’s all about letting loose and playing the right shot at the right time, and it comes natural.
"Of course after losing two first rounds, if somebody would have told me ‘You play the finals’ I would have signed it."
Melzer advanced out of the second round when Thiemo De Bakker retired in the third set with Melzer up 4-2. Then he beat No. 5 seed Benoit Paire 6-4, 6-3 in the third round, and No. 13 seed Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-3 in the quarterfinals.
He said his performance against Querrey was his best effort of the week.
"I felt like I played really well for one and a half sets and then I kinda lost it a little bit and went a little too passive and forgot about the game plan and was lucky in the beginning of the third set not to get broken at 1-love, but after that I felt like I played again well. I think most of the time I executed well.
"I feel like I’ve been serving well and the ground strokes have gotten better each match. If I play like that, I think it’s tough to beat me. … I was a Top 10 player so I think I’m always dangerous."
Melzer broke Querrey in the very first game of the match, and went on to break Querrey again to go up 5-2. He was also up a break in the second set before Querrey caught fire and broke back twice. But Melzer reclaimed control again in the third. He saved two break points to win the second game, then broke Querrey for a 2-1 lead and held three times from there. He then ended the match with his fifth break of the night. He was 5 of 9 on break opportunities.
"It’s a very tough serve," Melzer said of Querrey. "If he hits the spot there is nothing you can do but walk left to right. But I felt like when I had a chance I was returning well, especially second serves. I took a few steps back and tried to put it in play sometimes, and then other times I took the offensive, so he never knew what was coming. In general, I felt I was returning well."
Querrey, the highest seeded player left in the semifinals as the No. 6 seed, gave all the credit to Melzer afterward.
"I had regained all the momentum going into the third set and I felt like if I could have snuck out a break at the 0-1 game, maybe it would have been different," Querrey said. "But give him credit. He’s got great volleys, has had great success in doubles, and he’s crafty. When he brought me in he hit good passing shots, so, the cat and mouse points he was winning the majority of them."
Melzer will be looking for his fifth career ATP World Tour singles crown on Sunday, to go with 12 doubles titles. His last win came at Memphis in 2012, and he reached the final at Zagreb before losing to Marin Cilic in February.
He is winless in four tries against Monfils, though.
"Every title means a lot, especially since I haven’t beaten Gael before," Melzer said. "It will be a nice matchup, and hopefully I can pull it off."