Top seed Tomas Berdych toughed out a battling 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over qualifier Leonardo Mayer, while second seed Milos Raonic was eliminated from his quarter-final at the ATP-WTA Portugal Open on Friday.
Berdych, who only took a wild card to get more clay matches with the French Open just three weeks away, almost found himself on the sidelines as he dropped the first set to his 88th-ranked Argentine opponent.
The sixth-ranked Czech survived a roller-coaster final set and was to face Romania’s Victor Hanescu yesterday. Hanescu beat home hope Gastao Elias 6-1, 7-5.
“I have to be ready for tough battles like this,” Berdych said. “He hit the ball hard and played well at times, but he was also up and down.”
“I bought my best tennis in the past three or four games and got through, that was the most important thing today. I need to find a better rhythm on clay,” he added.
Raonic again disappointed on clay, bundled out 7-5, 6-4 in just under 90 minutes by Argentine Carlos Berlocq.
The Canadian was limited to six aces and the same number of double-faults in defeat, as he lost serve four times.
“At the end of the day, I want to do much better this season on clay than I have in the past,” he said. “I’m putting a lot of attention on Madrid [next week] and Paris [French Open].”
“On clay, training doesn’t mean a lot. You need confidence that only comes through wins,” Raonic said.
No. 62-ranked Berlocq is next to play 98th-ranked Daniel Gimeno-Traver, after the Spaniard upset third-seeded compatriot Marcel Granollers 6-1, 6-2.
In the women’s event, Svetlana Kuznetsova reached her first final in more than three years with a 6-3, 6-1 win over fellow Russian Elena Vesnina to set up a clash with Carla Suarez Navarro.
The Russian seventh seed, who owns Grand Slam titles from 2004 in Paris and 2009 in New York, is to take on the Spanish top seed competing in her third straight final in Portugal, but without a career trophy of any kind.
Suarez Navarro overcame Romanian qualifier Irina Begu 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 in one and three-quarter hours.
“I’ve been playing well the last two weeks, and I’m happy to be in the final. I never really expected this, especially on clay,” said Kuznetsova, whose last clay final was at Roland Garros five years ago.
“This means a lot to me. I’m far from my top level, but my tennis can still get me into this final. I have a chance to beat a lot of top players and I’m gaining confidence,” she added.
Suarez Navarro, who cruised through her early rounds with barely a challenge, was made to work in the semi-final by Begu, ranked world No. 117.
The challenger kept the first set competitive before getting discouraged over line calls and fading in the second.
As a result of her success, Suarez Navarro became the season singles-win leader with 25 victories.
“I’m feeling good on the court and I’m very comfortable here. I want to go out and play my best tennis in the final and we will see what happens,” the Spaniard said.
The 28-year-old Kuznetsova last played a final in February 2011 in Dubai, where she lost to Caroline Wozniacki. The Russian’s last trophy was earned at San Diego in 2010.
She began last year ranked 71 and has now fought back to 29th on the WTA list.