After flirting briefly with the red clay he so clearly dislikes, Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun is back on hard courts and poised for a big haul of ranking points — if his gimpy back holds up.
Taiwan’s top-ranked tennis player reached the semi-finals of the US$100,000 Israel Open by defeating Benedikt Dorsch of Germany 6-2, 6-3 on Thursday, setting up a semi-final clash with another German, Simon Stadler, yesterday.
Lu had little problem with the No. 133 German, never facing a break point and generally controlling the rallies. He said his wide angle groundstrokes particularly troubled Dorsch and created many of his 11 break points, of which he converted four.
It was the third straight-set win for Lu in the second-tier Challenger event in Israel’s Ramat Hasharon, a welcome development for a player who wasn’t even sure he could play when the week began.
Lu hurt his back at a Challenger event in Tenerife in the Canary Islands last week and was forced to retire down 6-1, 4-0 in a quarter-final match against eventual tournament winner Marco Chiudinelli.
Worried that he had reinjured a disk in his back — an injury that kept him out of action for nearly half a year in 2007 — Lu flew to Germany to have his back checked out.
To Lu’s relief, it was diagnosed as nothing more than a pulled muscle that merely needed a few days of rest, but Lu said it still feels sore this week.
With Thursday’s win, Lu guaranteed himself at least 33 ranking points, points that he needed to keep himself firmly positioned inside the top 100.
The 25-year-old is now ranked No. 67 in the world after reaching a career-high of No. 55 early last month, and is playing in Challenger events (set up generally for players outside the top 100) on hard courts to defend some of the 186 ranking points he earned in tournaments last year that he will soon lose.
He would earn 90 points if he were to win the tournament in Israel.
With the ATP Tour in the heart of its clay court season, Lu gave the slow surface a shot at the Barcelona Open late last month, but lost in the first round. He has played in hard court events since.
Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova ended Jelena Jankovic’s two-year reign as champion by beating the Serbian 6-1, 7-6 in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open on Thursday.
World No. 1 Dinara Safina kept alive hopes of setting up an all-Russian final when she survived another scare to reach the last four with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 win over Spain’s Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
Former US Open champion Kuznetsova, who captured last week’s Stuttgart Grand Prix, will next face sixth seed Victoria Azarenka. The Belarusian beat Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi 7-6, 6-3 in a scrappy encounter.
Safina will meet American fourth seed Venus Williams or Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in the last four.
AFP, ESTORIL, PORTUGAL
American James Blake booked his first claycourt quarter-final in more than a year with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-2 defeat of France’s Marc Gicquel at the Estoril Open on Thursday.
Blake broke twice in the 79-minute contest, which puts him into a quarter-final against French eighth seed Florent Serra, who defeated Argentine Juan Monaco 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.
French top seed Gilles Simon, a wild card entry, who won his opening match on Monday, showed no signs of rust as he dispatched Italy’s Fabio Fognini 6-0, 7-5 in 73 minutes.