Saturday at the Erste Bank Open, held in the Wiener Stadthalle in Vienna, was all about the semifinals. David Ferrer and Steve Johnson came through their matches and set up a meeting on Sunday to see who will leave the Austrian capital as the champion.
Steve Johnson Proves Too Strong For Gulbis
First match on was an all-unseeded clash between Johnson and Latvian Ernests Gulbis, who is a former Top 10 player and French Open semifinalist but has since fallen out of the Top 100. Both players had enjoyed impressive upsets earlier in the week, the American Johnson defeating the number two seed Kevin Anderson in the quarterfinals while Gulbis had taken out two big servers, John Isner and Ivo Karlovic, to reach the semifinals.
Johnson - the American number three behind Isner and Jack Sock - came out firing in the match, using his backhand slice in effective fashion, finishing points at the net with a purpose and not being afraid to unleash big forehand winners. He broke his Latvian opponent's serve right at the start of the match. The American player went on to win the set 6-3, without even facing a single break point.
The start of the second set followed the suit of the first as Johnson broke to go into a 2-1 lead. However, Gulbis broke back later in the set to level the score at 4-all. The two players kept on holding their serves until they entered a tiebreak to decide the winner of the set number two. It was Johnson who started the breaker brighter as he secured the mini-break right off the bat with a passing shot winner, followed by two service winners from the American. Gulbis managed to get the mini-break back but a few points later Johnson had his first match point. He missed a forehand swing volley long but then, on his second try, served an ace down the T to secure the victory in straight sets. Johnson played overall a clean match, hitting 27 winners to only 12 unforced errors whereas his opponent had 23 winners to 29 unforced errors. In addition, the American had 12 aces.
The victory means that Johnson will make his first appearance in a final come Sunday. The final spot guarantees him 300 ranking points which is enough for him to surpass his previous career-high ranking of 37 when the new rankings will be released next Monday.
Ferrer Fights Past Monfils In Two Tight Sets
Facing each others in the second semifinal were the top seed and world number eight, David Ferrer, and Gael Monfils, ranked 21th. In his first tournament under the guidance of his new coach, Mikael Tillström, Monfils had played well to make the semis, including his hard-fought win over Lukas Rosol on Friday night.
The Spaniard top seed held his serve to start the match, fending off three break points. After the Frenchman responded by holding easily, he set up another two break points in Ferrer's next service game. Just as he had done in the opening game, the Spaniard saved them both and moved into a 2-1 lead. The pair then exchanged a pair of service holds before the world number eight Ferrer earned his first break opportunities in the sixth game of the match.
Despite serving three double faults in that game, the Frenchman survived and leveled the score. They continued to hold their serves and down 4-5, Monfils faced scoreboard pressure while serving to stay in the set. It showed in the Frenchman's game and he went down a set point. However, he saved it with a big service winner and went on to hold his serve and the score was once again even. The set would eventually be decided in a tiebreak, where the two played some grueling rallies before the top seed prevailed when Monfils fired a cross-court backhand long on Ferrer's fourth set point.
The second set progressed without any breaks of serve - in fact, neither player even had a single break point opportunity until Ferrer finally broke for the first time in the match at 5-all. He served out the victory and fell to his knees in celebration after one, last putaway backhand volley. The Spaniard will now play his fifth final of the season and comes in with a perfect 4-0 record after having won in Doha, Rio de Janeiro, Acapulco and Kuala Lumpur earlier this year.