US top seed Andy Roddick fired 12 aces but it was an impressive backhand winner on Saturday that sparked his 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (7/5) victory over Ivo Karlovic in the ATP Washington Classic semi-finals.
Roddick was to play for his 23rd career ATP title yesterday against the winner of the semi-final between France's Gael Monfils and US newcomer John Isner, who has won four third-set tie-breakers in his ATP hardcourt debut.
In the second set tie-breaker, Roddick scrambled to his left and swatted a passing backhand winner past Karlovic to grab a 6-5 lead.
"I just took off and made decent contact. I didn't see it hit but the crowd [cheering] let me know it was in," Roddick said. "You have to pretty much just pull the trigger. I just hit it solid and put it in."
The Croatian seventh seed netted a backhand on the next point, handing Roddick the victory after 97 minutes.
"I was lucky," Roddick said. "You just try to get something in the tie-breakers against him. It's a coin flip. It flipped for me twice today."
Roddick, who won the Washington crown in 2001 and 2005, blasted a 151mph (243kph) ace in the first set, which he won when Karlovic sent a forehand long after serving the final tie-breaker point.
"I took my chances when I had them. I didn't have many," Roddick said. "My biggest focus out there was taking care of my own serve.
Roddick, who turns 25 later this month, improved to 3-1 lifetime against Karlovic and reached his third ATP final of the year, having won at Queen's in June but lost at Memphis in February.
Roddick has never faced Isner, who is playing only his second ATP event, and is only 1-2 against Monfils. Roddick won on Lyon carpet in 2005 but lost a Rome quarter-final last year and a Poertschach quarter-final this year in straight sets.
"He whipped me a couple times on clay but that's not such a big deal," said Roddick, who also praised the fitness of the latest pupil of former Roddick coach Tarik Benhabiles.
Spanish second seed Tommy Robredo and Argentina's Jose Acasuso pulled off contrasting straight-sets victories on Saturday to reach the final of the Polish Open.
Robredo held on to beat Gilles Simon 6-3 7-6, edging out the unseeded Frenchman 7-4 in the second-set tie-break to seal the win.
Acasuso had a far more comfortable 6-1 6-2 victory over Albert Montanes of Spain in just 61 minutes.
"It was my best match this week," a beaming Acasuso told reporters. "I'm very happy because it will be my third final here."
Acasuso won the title in Sopot in 2002 and lost in the final against Rafael Nadal two years later.
Maria Sharapova used a big first serve to reach the final of the Acura Classic by defeating Anna Chakvetadze 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday, setting up a clash with Patty Schnyder.
Sharapova snapped her fellow Russian's 12-match winning streak. Chakvetadze, who has yet to beat Sharapova in five career meetings, had won successive tournaments at Cincinnati and Stanford.
"The first set was pretty competitive," Sharapova said. "I felt like once I got the first break in the second set, I felt like I was on cruise control. It was a little too easy."
Chakvetadze pressured Sharapova in the first set with numerous long rallies, but Sharapova gave away little on her serve -- Chakvetadze had just one break point in the first set, which she didn't convert.
Vera Dushevina beat German qualifier Julia Georges 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 on Saturday to reach the final of the Nordic Light Open.