Top seed Juan Martin del Potro and No. 2 seed Richard Gasquet set up a duel for the Estoril Open title as the pair advanced to the final on Saturday.
Holder Del Potro will attempt to retain his trophy after defeating Swiss third seed Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.
The winner had five aces, but converted only one of his seven break points.
Gasquet needed a work-out before coming to grips with the game of Spain’s Albert Ramos as the second seed advanced 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 7-5.
Though he only needed slightly more than 90 minutes, with just one 15-minute rain interruption, Argentine Del Potro was pleased to get by the 22nd-ranked Wawrinka in straight sets.
“It’s always tough to play Stan,” said the South American, who is hunting an 11th career title. “He never gives you anything. It will be the same against Richard tomorrow — another tough player on clay. I will have to improve my game even more if I’m to win. I love playing on the clay and it would be great to win this title again.”
Del Potro’s win-loss record for the season stands at 26-6 and he is playing his first ATP clay event of the spring.
Wawrinka was playing a third clay semi-final this year after two in February.
Gasquet’s marathon, lasting just over three hours, at the Estadio Nacional puts the 18th-ranked Frenchman into a second Estoril final.
When he last played in Estoril, in 2007, he lost the final to then up-and-coming Serbian Novak Djokovic.
“He was attacking a lot and I had to defend all the time. He played very well, as clay is his best surface. He really made me work,” Gasquet said of Ramos. “I had to serve well in the end to get this win. We played a lot of big points. I had to fight but felt a lot better after I won the tie-break. Physically I feel good, but we will see on Sunday. I have nothing to lose and will just have to play my game.”
Gasquet will be playing in his 15th career final on the ATP and trails Del Potro 1-3 in head-to-head encounters.
The Swiss-based Gasquet stands 6-8 in ATP finals, winning his last trophy two years ago in Nice. His last final was in Gstaad two months later.
The second seed committed 16 errors in a sloppy opening set that 42nd-ranked Casablanca finalist Ramos won easily.
However, despite baseline -battling from both men, Gasquet began to find his rhythm, making a match of it in the second set.
The Frenchman recovered an early break and dominated in the tie-break to level the sets at one each.
The third set was drum-tight until Gasquet earned his only chance with a break for 6-5 with a winner at the net.
Gasquet took the hard-fought victory a game later as Ramos put out a return on his first match point.
On the women’s side, Kaia Kanepi of Estonia won the Estoril Open after saving two match points to beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 3-6, 7-6 (7/6), 6-4 on Saturday.
The sixth-seeded Kanepi survived the match points in the second-set tiebreaker and then rebounded from 3-1 down to claim her second title of the season in just over two-and-a-half hours on the outdoor clay court.
“I’ve won a few matches from match points down, but I’ve never won a final like this,” Kanepi said. “I’ll remember this final in a good way for a long time.”
BUDAPEST GRAND PRIX
Top-seeded Sara Errani of Italy won her third WTA title this year by defeating Elena Vesnina of Russia 7-5, 6-4 in the Budapest Grand Prix final at Romai Tennis Academy on Saturday.
Unseeded Vesnina opened the match with a service break and led 4-1. However, Errani began to apply heavy forehands with spin that earned her win four games in a row to take the first set.
In the second, Errani was 5-2 up before Vesnina regained her focus and charged back to within one point of leveling the score. Instead, Errani pulled herself together and earned her fifth career title on the WTA tour.
“Elena was playing very strong, I had to run a lot to return her shots,” Errani said.
“I didn’t imagine winning any title this year, and now I have won the third one.”
This was Vesnina’s sixth WTA final and she has lost all of them.
“I tried to play aggressive throughout the match, but the slow court suited Sara’s game better than my style of play,” Vesnina said.
US Open champion Samantha Stosur got off to a winning start at the Madrid Masters on Saturday, the Australian advancing to the second round with a 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5) defeat of Croatian Petra Martic.
Stosur was joined by Romanian Sorana Cirstea, who upset French seventh seed Marion Bartoli 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 6-3. French Open winner Li Na, the eighth seed, also made it through after dominating her opener against teenaged Madrid debutante Garbine Muguruza Blanco of Spain, who saved two match points before finally falling 6-2, 6-4. Unseeded Mona Barthel won an all-German battle, eliminating last year’s semi-finalist Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-1.
“This time last year, I was ranked around 200 and now I’m close to being seeded,” Barthel said, making her Madrid debut. “It feel strange, but I worked hard for it. “I’m serving well and moving better on the clay and I’m obviously benefiting from confidence right now.”
Venus Williams, the losing finalist two years ago, was pushed hard by Romanian Simona Halep before winning 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), while Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa beat Austrian Tamira Paszek 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 6-2.