Taiwan’s top tennis player, Lu Yen-hsun (盧彥勳), continued a run of excellent early season form, knocking out world No. 3 David Ferrer yesterday in the semi-finals of the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand, to reach an ATP Tour final for the first time in his career.
Lu upended the Spaniard 6-4, 7-6 (7/4) in just under 90 minutes, setting up a showdown with third seed John Isner of the US, who battled past Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 3-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 in the earlier semi-final.
“It’s incredible,” Lu said after the win. “From the beginning of the match I just told myself to win one point, win one game and luckily I won two sets. I tried to play my best tennis and fortunately I did it. He’s very fast, I had to play aggressive and not give him time.”
“That was pretty amazing,” Lu said on his official Web site later, adding that even Ferrer was smiling wryly and shaking his head in disbelief at what had just happened during their post-match handshake.
“Overall, I played great today and I had the edge from the baseline. Ferrer was constantly counterattacking, but I held on at the key moments,” the 30-year-old Lu said, happy to be finally playing in his first final after more than a decade on the ATP Tour.
Ferrer had ruled the Heineken Open since 2011, but he had not been at his best in Auckland this year, needing three sets to put away lower-ranked opponents in his previous two matches, and Lu took advantage.
The world No. 62, who had lost only one set in his three wins against unseeded players on the way to the semi-finals, cashed in on two of his eight break points against Ferrer in the opening set, including one in the ninth game, to pull out in front.
After the two traded early breaks in the second set, Lu was steady enough to get the set to a tiebreaker.
He gained the edge with two mini-breaks and eventually put Ferrer away when the Spaniard hit a return long.
Ferrer usually grinds his opponents down with his consistency and persistence, but Lu faces a challenge of a different kind against the 2.08m Isner, known for his bullet serves.
The last time the two played was in 2011 on a hard court, with Isner winning 6-1, 6-2.
Whatever happens today, Lu will be gratified by his play in Auckland heading into Monday’s Australian Open after having had to pull out of last week’s Chennai Open with a thigh injury.
After intensive treatment, his thigh — and his game — has held up and he should be carrying some momentum into the year’s first Grand Slam.
Lu’s best result in the Australian Open is reaching the third round in both 2009 and 2012, but he will have a tough road this year if he hopes to match or surpass that.
Though he plays a qualifier in the opening round, he would likely have to get by two big hitters — No. 22 seed Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria and 11th seed Milos Raonic of Canada — to move beyond the third round.
Among the potential qualifiers Lu could start the tournament against are two Taiwanese.
Jimmy Wang (王宇佐) and Yang Tsung-hua (楊宗樺) both play final-round qualifying matches today for spots in the main draw.
In the women’s singles, Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei (謝淑薇), whose ranking has dropped to 85th in the world, opens against world No. 83 Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, while world No. 232 Chan Yung-jan (詹詠然) of Taiwan commences her campaign against world No. 65 Christina McHale of the US.