By Florian Heer
(February 7, 2014) ZAGREB – After an exciting opening month of the season in Australia and Asia as well as the first round of the Davis Cup, ATP World Tour action returns to Europe. Leading the way at the PBZ Zagreb Indoors is world number twelve Tommy Haas, who is making his tournament debut and world number fourteen Mikhail Youzhny. Four of the top five seeds were in action on Friday at Dom Sportova. Two unseeded quarterfinalists met in the first encounter of the day when Dudi Sela took on Björn Phau for the fourth time. The German qualifier could only win one match before between the two but seems to be on a roll at this tournament. Phau advanced into the stage of the final eight by battling through the qualification and with victories over Ante Pavic and Mikhail Youzhny. The German is playing his first ATP World Tour event since falling in third round at Indian Wells in March last year losing to Juan Martin Del Potro. This is the German’s first quarterfinal since Stuttgart in July 2012. Sela, who played one quarterfinal this year before in Chennai was without any chance today. Phau, who already reached some good indoor results on Challenger level in the past, took the match winning 6-4, 6-3 in 69 minutes
The second match of the day guaranteed a Croatian semi-finalist for the eighth time in nine years in Zagreb when three times champion Marin Cilic faced Ivan Dodig. Cilic fired down fourteen aces on his way to victory over compatriot Mate Delic in the first round and he hit another twelve aces in a straight sets win over Serbian Dusan Lajovic in second round. Fourth-seeded Dodig opened his campaign with a 7-6, 6-3 win over countryman Ivo Karlovic but today he had to accept the fact that Cilic was the more consistent and luckier player in the decisive moments winning 7-5, 6-4 after one hour and 32 minutes.
“Today against Marin it was a different match compared to yesterday,” Dodig said. “For me it was a little bit tough today to adopt Marin’s game. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for me, especially with my serve I am not happy at all today,” the fourth-seeded added. Cilic on the other hand celebrated his eighteenth victory out of his last nineteen matches in Zagreb. “I think that the key points were going on my side,” the winner analysed. “Especially in the end of the first set and at the beginning of the second when Ivan was not able to confirm his break. After that game we had new balls and it was tougher for him to gain the break back and in the final stage of the match I was also a bit lucky,” the defending champion admitted. “Of course playing with Ivan involve a lot of emotions, which sometimes is tough to deal with but I think I handled it very well today,” Cilic was satisfied with his performance as well as his mental strength.
A very first meeting took place with the match between Philipp Kohlschreiber and Daniel Evans. The German, who made his Zagreb debut yesterday defeating Andrey Golubev in straight sets, had to face a highly motivated British number two. The world number 147 entered the main draw by replacing the tournament’s seventh seeded Radek Stepanek, who withdrew due to a right heel injury. From then on Evans cruised past Jan Hajek and defeated qualifier Michael Berrer. The 23-year-old from Birmingham also made the better start into today’s encounter breaking Kohlschreiber’s serve in the third game to eventually take the set in tenth. The man from Augsburg, fought his way back into this match, breaking serve in the fourth and eighth game to take the encounter into a decider. Here again, the Brit was wide awake right from the beginning when he capitalized on his first break point opportunity in the final set. Evans didn’t become flustered, defended his advantage until the end of the match and served out in the tenth game winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 after two hours to reach his first ever semi-final on the ATP World Tour. “I enjoy every day here in Zagreb. I only found out the day when main draw started that I will have to play on Tuesday,” the lucky loser said. “So I had the chance to play a lot of matches this week, which is always good and it is a big achievement for me to reach the semis here,” Evans said. “For me Davis Cup is still one of my favourite things to do and so this is a big goal for me to play for my country. That I wasn’t selected for the tie on clay last weekend is a difficult decision but there are some players in Britain, who ran the same level and eventually the captain has to decide. It’s normal in sports that from time to time someone has to be left out,” the Englishman explained. In the end this decision might have become a lucky one for Evans as otherwise he may not to be here in Zagreb.
In the final match of the day top-seed Tommy Haas met Andrey Kuznetsov for the very first time. The 35-year-old German made his Zagreb debut yesterday winning in three sets against countryman Benjamin Becker. The Russian battled his way through the qualification, defeated 2008 champion Sergiy Stakhovsky and Heilbronn finalist Igor Sijsling to appear in his third ATP World Tour quarterfinal. The the first set in was even affair without any break points. Haas eventually took the set in the tie-break 8-6. The German veteran improved his play with the start of the final frame. Haas capitalized on the first break point of the match in the opening game of the final set after 47 minutes. The top-seed served out by an ace winning 7-6, 6-4 in 85 minutes. “We both served well, the tie-break was hard fought and I think it was important for the momentum to win it,” the top-seed said afterwards. “It is always dangerous to play qualifiers at a tournament, who have already played a couple of matches before. Daniel beat with Philipp a top-player today and I have to focus on my game tomorrow but I expect another tough match,” Haas stated about his semi-finals task.
Florian Heer travels the tennis tour with a focus on ATP Challenger events and the ITF Future Circuit! Follow his twitter account @Florian _Heer.