Tennis: Fritz wins twice to reach Washington semis; Thiem reaches first final since 2020 at Kitzbuhuel

  jennifer caffelle   6607   05 Aug, 2023 

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Jessica Pegula reached the final four by coming back to edge Elina Svitolina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 across more than two hours at Washington Open. Top-seeded Taylor Fritz went 2 for 2 at the Washington Open on Friday to reach the semifinals, first beating Andy Murray in a three-setter briefly interrupted by climate protesters and then heading out onto a different court three hours later to eliminate Jordan Thompson at night. The second-seeded man, Frances Tiafoe, a crowd favorite who grew up nearby in Maryland, couldn’t match Fritz’s feat, winning one match Friday but losing his second, bowing out in the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 7-5 loss to No. 9 seed Dan Evans. Fritz vs Murray was one of several matches canceled on Thursday because of rain, jumbling the schedule at the hard-court tuneup for the US Open and forcing some players to compete twice on Friday. Fritz, a 25-year-old from California who is the highest-ranked American man at No. 9, saved all seven break points he faced in the third set and hit 17 aces with tennis balls he deemed “awful” en route to a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 6-4 victory against Murray, a 36-year-old from Britain who earned three Grand Slam titles before he had two hip operations. That one, which Fritz said was played at an “insanely high level,” lasted more than three hours in the main stadium with the temperature in the mid-80s Fahrenheit (around 30 Celsius) and 60% humidity. Then Fritz raised his season victory total to 41 — only No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz and No. 3 Daniil Medvedev have more — by beating Thompson 6-3, 6-3 in a much quicker contest at John Harris Court: 1 hour, 17 minutes. “My body probably couldn’t have handled another battle like I had with Andy,” said Fritz, who won the title at Atlanta last week and will face No. 12 seed Tallon Griekspoor on Saturday for a berth in Washington’s final. “I can’t say I’ve experienced this — playing three hours with the heaviest balls in the world in humid conditions and having to turn around and play again,” Fritz said. He said he couldn’t recall playing back-to-back matches like that since he was a kid. Fritz spent the time between facing Murray and Thompson like this: “I biked a little bit. Cooled down. Got some food in me. Immediately just started drinking, trying to get a lot of electrolytes in me, not just water. Then showered and got in an ice bath for five, six minutes. Then I just … laid down and relaxed for 30 minutes or so. Then it was time to start doing all my pre-match stuff, so I just got right back into it.” Murray couldn’t remember the last time he played two matches in a day. “It’s pretty rare that it happens,” he said. “There is not necessarily, like, a strategy for that. Because it’s so rare, you just try and focus on the first match. And then if you get through it, try and rest and recover as much as you can before going out there. But it’s far from ideal.” Before facing Fritz, Thompson completed a 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 11 Chris Eubanks in a match suspended late in the first set Thursday. Griekspoor finished beating Gael Monfils in a match suspended Thursday in the third set, then went out and defeated JJ Wolf 7-5, 6-4. Tiafoe beat qualifier Shang Juncheng 6-2, 6-3, then had 2 1/2 hours off before facing Evans in the main stadium. Evans, who also beat Alexander Shevchenko on Friday, now takes on No. 5 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov had a much simpler workday: He moved into the semifinals when No. 13 Ugo Humbert withdrew before their match with an injured left leg. In women’s action, top-seeded Jessica Pegula reached the final four by coming back to edge Elina Svitolina 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 across more than two hours. Pegula saved six break points in the third set — five at 3-2, and the last while serving out the victory. Pegula, who won the Washington singles trophy in 2019, meets No. 4 seed Maria Sakkari in the semifinals. Sakkari won her rain-postponed fourth-round match against 2021 U.S. Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez 7-5, 6-2, then eliminated 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys 6-3, 6-3. The other women’s semifinal will be defending champion Liudmila Samsonova against 2022 French Open finalist Coco Gauff. “This is the tennis that I have been trying to play,” Gauff said after defeating Belinda Bencic 6-1, 6-2. “From the first point of the match, I tried to tell myself that I’m going to be aggressive in the moments that I need to.” Thiem saves five match points to reach first final since 2020 Former US Open champion Dominic Thiem reached his first final since 2020 on Friday when he saved five match points to defeat Laslo Djere in the semi-finals of the Kitzbuhuel clay-court tournament. The Austrian came through 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-6 (10/8) after three hours and 30 minutes, saving all 12 break points he faced against his Serbian opponent. He will face Sebastian Baez of Argentina on Saturday for the title. Thiem, a former world number three, is now down at 116 in the rankings after a lengthy battle to overcome a wrist injury which sidelined him for nine months from June 2021 until March 2022. His last championship match on tour was at the season-ending ATP Finals in 2020. That was in the same season he captured his only Grand Slam title at the US Open. His victory in New York was his 17th career trophy and most recent. “I don’t know if I can still produce some good words,” said Thiem who saved three match points on serve at 5-6 in the third set and another two in Friday’s decisive tie-break. “It was probably the longest best of three match I’ve ever played in my life, including when I was a kid.” He added: “It was a very tough and intense match. So close every set, every single game.” Thiem, who was the Kitzbuhuel champion in 2019, can return to the world’s top 80 if he triumphs on Saturday. “It’s very special today, my first final on the tour since my wrist injury. I couldn’t be happier that it’s here in Austria at home,” he added. World number 72 Baez made Saturday’s final by seeing off fellow Argentine and top seed Tomas Martin Etcheverry 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-4. The 22-year-old arrived in Kitzbuhuel with just one win in his previous five tournaments. “I’m very happy, because the last weeks I didn’t have big results, so happy to be in the final,” said Baez who defeated Thiem in their only previous meeting at Bastad in Sweden last year.

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