Bautista Agut, Ramos-Vinolas Set Up All-Spanish Showdown In Kitzbühel

Roberto Bautista Agut (photo: Brigitte Urban)

KITZBÜHEL/WASHINGTON, July 28, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

A year after Roberto Bautista Agut bowed in the second round of the Generali Open as the second seed, he’s returned to Kitzbühel in the Austrian Alps with great fire and determination. In a Thursday afternoon quarterfinal match of the ATP 250 event that could have gone either way, the No. 3 seed from Spain – the highest remaining seed left – gutted out 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory over unseeded Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic that lasted five minutes shy of three hours on Centre Court. The fans that filled Centre Court were rewarded for their patience with some tremendous tennis from both competitors.

Bautista Agut won on his third match-point try against the 68th-ranked Lehecka after the young Czech netted a fifth-shot forehand. The 34-year-old Spaniard from Castellón de la Plana, who is 14 years Lehecka’s senior, found a way to come through – he passed a big test. Now, he’s into his fourth semifinal of the 2022 season.

The quiet, normally reserved Bautista Agut celebrated on court by raising his arms toward the crowd and shouted “Vamos!” numerous times. Then, he stood and applauded as Lehecka walked off the court to tremendous applause. Although Lehecka let a win slip through his racquet, which dropped his season win-loss record to 7-13, there’s plenty of bright promise ahead for the 20-year-old rising star from Mladá Boleslav – especially, if he can find a way to pull through in tense situations.

“Jiri has a great game, I wish him a wonderful career. He has a lot of potential,” Bautista Agut said, praising his fallen opponent during his on-court interview.

Although the final numbers didn’t necessary reflect it, Bautista proved himself to be a terrific competitor and fighter against Lehecka. He was rewarded for his perseverance, which has lifted him to two straight victories in Kitzbühel after bowing in consecutive opening-round matches in Bastad and Gstaad the past two weeks. Earlier this year, Bautista Agut dealt with a wrist problem and also battled with a bout of COVID-19. Now that he’s healthy, Bautista Agut is starting to show spark on the court, again.

“I’m very happy with the win today,” Bautista Agut said. “I really fought hard; I really believed [in myself] until the end. I think I improved from beginning to the end.”

Looking back at the competitive and entertaining quarterfinal, Bautista Agut was nearly banished by Lehecka in straight sets – he was two points from being eliminated, down 6-4, 5-4 (30-30) – before he broke back to level the second set at 5-all, then gained momentum as the match wore on.

In the end, Bautista Agut won just 59 percent of his first-serve points, which won’t guarantee too many positive outcomes. However, he was tough as nails on the return, breaking Lehecka’s serve six times in 13 opportunities – twice in each set. Bautista Agut overcame five breaks of his own serve and outpointed Lehecka 113-109.

“It was nice to play in front [of this crowd] today. It’s really amazing,” Bautista Agut said.

By winning, Bautista Agut assured Kitzbühel fans of an all-Spanish semifinal on Friday. He will face No. 5 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas, whom he has previously faced nine times.

Ramos-Vinolas beats friend, practice partner Martinez

In the opening quarterfinal, the No. 5 seed Ramos-Vinolas, who has finished in the ATP Top 100 in each of the past 11 seasons, used his vast match experience to defeat his friend and practice partner, No. 7 seed Pedro Martinez, 6-4, 6-2, in a battle among two determined Spaniards on Centre Court. He put away the solid but unspectacular victory on his third match point try.

It was the eighth career win at Kitzbühel for Ramos-Vinolas and moved him one round closer to reaching his 12th career ATP Tour final on clay. After already winning titles in Bastad (2016) and Gstaad (2019), the 34-year-old Spaniard is two wins away from completing a European summer clay trifecta.

“I have great memories here. To play against Pedro, he’s always difficult,” Ramos-Vinolas said during his on-court interview. “We know each other a lot. When we are home, we are practicing almost every day together. We are good friends and good partners. It’s difficult to have to play him.”

During the one-hour, 49-minute match, Ramos-Vinolas proved the steadier player on serve, winning 73 percent of his service points while saving two of three break points. He converted four of 11 opportunities and won 48 percent of his returns. Overall, Ramos-Vinolas outpointed Martinez 71-52. Now, he’s into his second straight semifinal after reaching the final four in Gstaad last week.

“Last week I played [the] semifinal [in Gstaad] and now [I’m in] the semifinal here,” Ramos-Vinolas said. “I’m very happy. It’s not easy. Every year is more difficult for me, I’m getting older. I’m happy with my performance last week and this week.”

Third match point is the charm for Hanfmann to beat Thiem

For the second straight day, Austria’s favorite son Dominic Thiem was taken to a third set by his opponent. On Wednesday, it was fellow countryman Sebastian Ofner who pushed the former World No. 3 to a decider before Thiem prevailed. On Thursday, veteran German Yannick Hanfmann had the honors of taking the the 2019 Kitzbühel champion Thiem to the brink.

After rain intervened late in the third set, which delayed the inevitable outcome for about 40 minutes, Hanfmann ended Thiem’s run at home. The 140th-ranked Munich native won 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in two hours and 27 minutes to advance to his second Kitzbühel semifinal in three years.

At one set each, Thiem fought through whatever demons he’s been facing in the Austrian Alps this week and it was no better illustrated than in the eighth game of the final set, in which Thiem fought off two break points during a 14-point game to level matters at 4-all. He brought the Centre Court crowd at Kitzbühel Tennis Center to its feet after holding serve with all he could dish at Hanfmann.

After two hours and 12 minutes, it was anyone’s guess how this third – and most anticipated – quarterfinal match of the day would turn out. One thing that did happen was not totally unexpected. It started to rain shortly before 7 p.m. Despite the rain drops, it didn’t dampen the players’ enthusiasm for wanting to soldier on. Hanfmann saved two break points during a nine-minute game and held for a 5-4 lead.

Now, the onus was on Thiem. He would need to be able to hold serve or it would be over. However, before he could, the chair umpire intervened and both Thiem and Hanfmann went off as play was halted and the playing surface was covered. After about a 40-minute delay, play resumed but it would be over in a matter of minutes. Immediately, Thiem double-faulted and quickly found himself down 0-30. He recovered to serve his fifth ace, but Hanfmann garnered a match point after Thiem misfit a forehand return. However, the Austrian saved it and another match point to gain deuce after a couple of long returns that hugged the baseline.

Finally, Hanfmann put the match away on his third match-point opportunity after Thiem hit a seventh-shot, cross-court forehand wide right. He seemed to know it as soon as he hit it. The players shared a cordial handshake at the net.

“Lots of emotion, what a drama. I mean, what an atmosphere, what a day to play tennis here,” Hanfmann said during his on-court interview. “Yeah, I’m just really happy to be part of it. To come out victorious against a player like [Dominic], here on this court is amazing. I can’t say anything else.”

Hanfmann had come back and played a solid final game, keeping it together for the final six minutes of the match. It was a great victory for Hanfmann, who broke into the Top 100 for the first time in 2018 and achieved a career-high No. 92 last year. For him, it made waiting to come back worth it.

Hanfmann, who finished with four aces and won 72 percent of his first-serve points, was asked what was the key to beating Thiem. He replied:

“I believed in my weapons, I believed in my kick serve, the bounce of the court. It’s an aggressive style of tennis I tried on the court today.

“It worked in the first set, but I think he played much better in the second. In the third, it was a toss-up. Lots of chances back and forth. I kept believing.”

Thiem’s serve would be broken twice in seven attempts but the Austrian was able to only break back once in 10 tries. Surprisingly, Hanfmann was outpointed by Thiem 93-88. Still, it’s Hanfmann and not Thiem who advanced to Friday’s semifinal round.

“It’s a bit unreal but I made it,” Hanfmann exclaimed, a bit tired but very happy with the outcome.

Around the Generali Open

• The final quarterfinal of the day between Austrian Filip Misolic and Dusan Lajovic of Serbia was suspended due to inclement weather and thunderstorms in the area and rescheduled for 11 a.m. Friday. After suitable rest, the winner will return later Friday to face Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann in the second semifinal of the day.

• The final two doubles quarterfinal matches – all involving unseeded teams – took place on Court Kuchenmeister Thursday afternoon.

The first one paired Pedro Martinez of Spain and Lorenzo Sonego of Italy against Austrian wild cards Jurij Rodionov and Neil Oberleitner, while Frenchmen Fabian Reboul and Sadio Doumbia played Robin Haase of the Netherlands and Philipp Oswald of Austria in the second one.

Martinez and Sonego rallied from a set down and beat the Austrian duo 4-6, 6-4, 10-8. The quarterfinal was decided by a match tie-break and the Spanish-Italian pair won on their fourth match point.

Then, Haase and Oswald defeated the French pair, 6-4, 6-3, in an hour, outpointing their opponents 57-40.

Thursday’s Generali Open results

Friday’s Generali Open order of play

By the numbers

Yannick Hanfmann of Germany came in to Thursday’s quarterfinal against Dominic Thiem sporting an 11-4 overall win-loss record at Kitzbuhel since his tournament debut in 2017 (6-3 in the main draw, 5-1 in qualifying).

“Quotable …”

“These are the two best days of my life. I played my game the whole match, used good stops, played the backhand longline again and again and didn’t give [Andujar] a chance to get into the match in the second set. The audience inspired me; it was just a dream.”

Filip Misolic of Austria, describing the feeling of reaching the quarterfinals as a wild card in his debut at the Generali Open.