Wolf Continues To Build Upon Memorable Week In Florence

J.J. Wolf (photo: Giampiero Sposito/UniCredit Firenze Open)

FLORENCE/WASHINGTON, October 14, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

With only four of the original eight seeds remaining in the UniCredit Firenze Open draw on Friday in Tuscany – which included just one Italian from the seven who began the week in the ATP 250 indoor hard court event – it’s anyone’s guess how the quarterfinal-round matches would play out.

However, with three Americans among the final eight players – 75th-ranked J.J. Wolf, No. 79 Mackenzie McDonald and No. 8 seed Brandon Nakashima – it seemed a good bet that at least one of them would advance to Saturday’s semifinal round.

As it happened, Wolf was up to the challenge and the Ohioan punched his ticket for the weekend. Here’s how the Friday quarterfinal matches unfolded:

• The afternoon began with Sweden’s Mikael Ymer qualifying for his third tour-level semifinal of the season – and fourth of his career – after defeating No. 80 Roberto Carballes Baena of Spain, 6-4, 6-2, in an hour and 37 minutes.

Carballes Baena (now 2-11 in ATP Tour-level quarterfinals) was unable to find any solutions to overcome the athleticism of the 99th-ranked Ymer, who won 71 percent of his first-serve points, hit 24 winners and made 10 unforced errors – and converted five of six break-point opportunities. It all added up to Ymer’s 20th victory of the 2022 season – the first time the 24-year-old Stockholm resident has broken the 20-victory plateau.

“I feel the energy and the love of the crowd,” Ymer, who has strung together five straight wins this week in Florence (two in qualifying and three in the main draw) said during his on-court interview. “I feel like I’m an Italian.”

• The second quarterfinal, between Wolf and No. 7 seed Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, won by the American, 3-6, 7-5, 6-1, came down to a third set winner-take-all. While the 43rd-ranked Bublik leveraged one service break to win the opening set, Wolf recovered from a mid-set wobble in the second to break Bublik and win the middle set. Then, with 15 aces and 35 winners in his ledger through the first two sets – not to mention 15 previous tour-level indoor wins this season –Bublik ran into an inspired Wolf in the final set. One could toss out the numbers, as far as Wolf was concerned.

Building upon an impressive summer in autumn, the 23-year-old American from Cincinnati fought hard and broke Bublik in consecutive service games to jump out to a 5-1 advantage. Then, serving for the match, Wolf put away the victory brilliantly on his fourth match-point try – saving a break point during the 12-point final game thanks to a solid return game – to reach his first ATP Tour semifinal. With his 15th career tour-leveltriumph – and his head in the right place – Wolf’s live ranking shoots up to No. 63 – a career best.

“It’s not very easy playing against [Alexander]; he is probably one of the top five most talented players on the Tour,” Wolf said in his on-court interview. “So, you always have to be on your toes.

“I lost my cool a couple of times, but every chance against him is only a half-chance. He can always ace you or hit a winner. So, I tried to keep my cool as best as I could.”

Bublik finished with 19 aces and 41 winners, but Wolf overshadowed his taller opponent by hitting 10 aces and 28 winners. He also kept the pressure on Bublik during his return games and broke four times in 15 opportunities during the two-hour, 11-minute match.

Asked how he would prepare for his semifinal match against Ymer, the quiet-and-laidback Wolf said: “I’m going to enjoy this win for a little bit then worry about [playing Ymer]. He’s playing great this week, so I’m exciting for it.”

• Next, in the afternoon’s featured match, #NextGenATP Italian rising star and No. 3 seed Lorenzo Musetti gave another marvelous performance in front of 3,000 fans that filled Palazzo Wanny to reach the semifinals in his home event.

The 20-year-old from nearby Carrara, Tuscany struck 23 winners against the unseeded and outmatched McDonald to win 6-3, 6-2. It was his 26th tour-level victory of 2022 and Musetti won in an economical 77 minutes. He is looking to add to his first ATP Tour title, which he won on clay in Hamburg in June.

“It was a really good start, but he came back and was very good,” Musetti said in Italian during his on-court interview, “But I had to defend some break points. I think I won the match because I played really well in the important situations. I always used my serve well and I am confident as I am playing really good. I am also looking forward to the semis.”

• On Saturday evening, Musetti, who has already qualified for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, will face World No. 13 and top seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, who eliminated the 46th-ranked Nakashima, 6-3, 6-4.

Auger-Aliassime, 22, improved his chances for qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals following his 42nd tour-level victory of the season against Nakashima that clocked at an hour and 29 minutes and wrapped up play Friday evening in Palazzo Wanny.

The Canadian No. 1 struck 23 winners and garnered 90 percent of his first-serve points. The victory lifted Auger-Aliassime into seventh place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, moving past American Taylor Fritz. Already headed to the Pala Alpitour in Turin next month are: Rafael Nadal, Carlos Alcaraz, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic.

Meanwhile, Nakashima will leave Florence in sixth place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan. The 21-year-old from San Diego, Calif. is looking to qualify for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals for the second straight year after being a semifinalist in 2021.

Around the Firenze Open

The remaining two berths in the doubles semifinals were up for grabs Friday with only one seeded team – No. 3 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Austin Krajicek of the United States – in action. The Croatian/American duo are the only remaining seeded team following the earlier losses by the top two seeds – No. 1 Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain and No. 2 Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia – and the No. 4 seeds, Australian team Matthew Ebden and John Peers.

Dodig and Krajicek rallied to beat Tomislav Brkic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Gonzalo Escobar of Ecuador, 4-6, 6-3, 10-5. They outpointed their opponents 61-52.

In the other quarterfinal, unseeded French team Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul advanced to the semifinals with a 7-6 (4), 6-2 win over Nicolas Barrientos of Colombia and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela of Mexico.

Friday’s UniCredit Firenze Open results

Saturday’s UniCredit Firenze Open order of play

By the numbers

Felix Auger-Aliassime moved into seventh place in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, past Taylor Fritz, by reaching the semifinals in Florence. A seventh-place finish is required to guarantee qualification for this year’s ATP season-ending event.

“Quotable …”

“That’s how I like to play, with my strength, with my serve, with my physical abilities. I try to always go forward. That’s the way I commit to the game and how I play. Again today, I was trying to do that. I did well, sometimes missing a little bit, but that’s OK, it’s going to get better.”

– Top seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada, during his on-court interview after hitting 11 aces and 42 winners overall in defeating Oscar Otte in three sets Thursday evening.