UPSETS PROPEL GULBIS AND ROGER-VASSELIN INTO ITC FINAL
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – For the seventh time in the 21-year history of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships, an unseeded player will be crowned the champion at the ATP World Tour tournament.
That was assured Saturday night when Edouard Roger-Vasselin, ranked No. 105 in the world, stunned No. 1 seed John Isner 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the semifinals of the South Florida event. Earlier in the day, Ernests Gulbis became the sixth qualifier in the ITC’s history to reach the singles final when the 24-year-old Latvian, No. 109 in the ATP rankings, won a hard-fought 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2) semifinal match against No. 2 seed Tommy Haas of Germany, setting up a final in which both players are ranked outside the top 100.
Gulbis, who also was unseeded when he won here three years ago, can become the third qualifier to win the Delray Beach ATC title. The win by Roger-Vasselin, 29, was the Frenchman’s first in his last 13 matches against a top 20 player and only third of his career. He will be seeking his first ATP career title Sunday afternoon.
Roger-Vasselin was a late entry into the main draw after receiving the call in France three days before the first round began here. Nine days later, he’s in his first ATP career final.
“I couldn’t imagine being in the final,” Roger-Vasselin said, adding that his win over Isner ranks just behind his 2009 victory over Juan Martin Del Potro, then ranked No. 5 in the world, in Tokyo.
Isner was down 4-2 but won four consecutive games to take the second set and knot the match. He also was down 4-2 in the third set, but Roger-Vasselin didn’t allow a repeat of the second set and punched his fist in victory when Isner sent the Frenchman’s serve wide on match point.
Isner, ranked No. 15 in the world, registered 21 aces to only four by Roger-Vasselin, but Isner said after the match that he felt his serving game was not up to par.
“It all started with my serve. I didn’t feel like I made enough first serves,” said Isner, who won 65 percent of his first serves, but only 48 percent of his second serves. “I did in spurts, I guess, but the times that I got broken, I didn’t make any first serves. I’m not going to win many matches if I serve like that. But credit to (Roger-Vasselin), he played very well. I lost because he was better than me. It’s very disappointing though. . . . I wasn’t looking ahead. He played well and he deserved to win. ”
Gulbis, ranked No. 109 and playing in his first ATP World Tour semifinal of the year, also registered a win over No. 3 seed Sam Querrey this week en route to the championship match. He will be seeking his second title at the Delray Beach ITC, where he captured his first career ATP World Tour title in 2010.
Asked to analyze the reason that more qualifiers have reached the final here than the top seeds, Gulbis said he believes it’s because of the timing of the tournament.
“This is the first (outdoor) tournament after the indoor season, and the qualifiers play three matches (here) before the others (in the main draw),” Gulbis said.
Gulbis nailed seven aces in the match and had only four double faults, compared to nine for Haas. Gulbis said he doesn’t pay much attention to seedings and rankings, but his performance here this week certainly will vault him higher in the ATP rankings.
“Honestly, I didn’t play that well, but I kept fighting,” said Gulbis, who was playing in his seventh career ATP World Tour semifinal and first since winning the title in Los Angeles in 2011. “The first two sets, the wind was blowing much more, but in the third set the wind screwed up my game so much that I really lost the feeling and timing for my forehand, so it was tough to get it in the court. I was pushing the ball and not hitting it. I was lucky that on the important points, I went aggressive and I made the ball in the court. As soon as I started to play aggressive, I started to play better.”
The 34-year-old Haas, who is No. 19 in the ATP rankings, was playing in his second semifinal match this year and also seeking to reach the final here for the second time, having won the Delray Beach ITC in 2006. He complimented the composure and patience that Gulbis showed in windy conditions at the Delray Beach Stadium and Tennis Center.
“When he plays like that, his ranking shouldn’t be where it is,” Haas said of Gulbis. “I think he’s going to be back in the top 100 again, and he should definitely be in the top 50 at all times if he’s playing the way he’s playing right now. He just needs to dedicate himself and figure out how to continue playing like that. I’m sure this win will give him confidence and a boost. And kudos to him, he came up with big shots at the right time.”
Gulbis delivered his biggest shots of the match in the third set. Down 15-40 in the ninth game, he staved off break point to win the game and take a 5-4 lead. After Haas held serve in the 10th game to tie the set, Gulbis found himself again on the brink of a service break by Haas, but the Latvian won the next five points to win the game and take a 6-5 lead.
“Those were big points,” Haas said. “If I won one of those, I would have had the match in my favor, but I didn’t. I definitely put myself in the position of winning the match and I just didn’t do it. I made a few bad calls, bad shot selections when it came down to almost having a small match point for my brain. I didn’t capitalize on those, and when you don’t, you usually lose the match.”
The No. 1-seeded doubles team of Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau won their afternoon semifinal, beating the No. 4 seed team of Johan Brunstrom and Raven Klaasen 7-6(1), 6-3. The will face the American duo of James Blake and Jack Sock at 1 p.m. Sunday for the doubles title. Blake and Sock, a wild card entry, defeated Germans Dustin Brown and Christopher Kas 6-2, 7-5 in the other semifinal Saturday night.