This year has already been a banner season for 15th seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, which includes a perfect 3-0 record on the season against ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
The two players started their quarterfinal outing at the Shanghai Rolex Masters Friday with a 2-2 win-loss record against each other. It was only 72-minutes later that Bautista Agut took a 3-2 lead in their head-to-head with a 6-3, 6-4 win.
In their previous meetings this season – in the semifinal of Auckland and third round of Miami – Bautista Agut rebounded from a one-set deficit to earn victories. This time it was a totally different story as Tsonga, who was a finalist here last year, had trouble finding his footing in the match.
Bautista Agut raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first set and held onto the advantage. In the second set, play stayed on form until the final game when Tsonga dropped his serve to lose the match.
“I think I played with a lot of intensity,” Bautista Agut said. “I was calm. I was very concentrated in all the match.”
Bautista Agut’s already won two titles this season, at Auckland and Sofia, and also was a finalist at Winston-Salem and semifinalist at St. Petersburg. In order to reach another final this year he’ll have to bypass world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
“I think I am playing well and I’m doing the things well to face Novak,” Bautista Agut said. “For sure, it’s a good moment to face him. Novak is one of the best tennis players in history. I know if I play good I can make him a difficult match.”
Djokovic started his two hour, two minute match against German qualifier Mischa Zverev in a tentative fashion. Dropping his serve in the third game, and again in the ninth game, landed the first set in Zverev’s favor.
The second set remained a struggle for Djokovic, who was 0-2 down – and dropped two service games before finding a path to the tiebreaker. Djokovic finally appeared to take control when he raced out to a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker.
The third set found Djokovic establish a 3-1 edge, which he rode to the finish line.
“It was the most entertaining match for me of the tournament, definitely,” Djokovic said. “Had to dig myself out of a hole. He was the better player for most of the first part of the match. He was a set and a break up, a game away from winning.”
As for Djokovic’s upcoming semifinal against Bautista Agut, the Serb enters the court with a 5-0 winning record.
“He’s a smart player,” Djokovic said. “He’s been playing very well throughout the week. He’s not going to give you the win. So I need to obviously earn it.”
The other semifinal will feature two-time Shanghai champion Andy Murray against Frenchman Gilles Simon, who scored a final berth at this tournament in 2014.
Murray earned his semifinal slot by taking a 6-2, 6-2 win over David Goffin of Belgium. Despite the score, the match was not clear sailing.
“I thought there was a lot of long games and tight games where he had chances on my serve, but also on his own serve, as well,” Murray said.
One game that caught the attention of fans was when Goffin was serving in the second game of the second set. The 26-point game took 15 minutes before Goffin held serve after saving six break points.
“Obviously, had I gotten that game I would have been able to get ahead quicker in that second set, but he fought hard in those moments,” Murray said.
Simon came through a two hour, 40 minute thriller that went down to a third-set tiebreaker against Jack Sock of the USA.
The tiebreaker offered fitting drama for the high-quality match. Sock held the lead on three occasions in the decider, but from 5-5 Gilles was in position to win. Sock hit an inside out forehand into the net to give Simon a match point, and then helped again by netting a forehand return.
“I’m very happy to win it because it was a very nice match to play and I really enjoyed playing it,” Simon said. “It was so close and really very, very hard so I’m happy with the performance tonight.”
Looking ahead to the semifinal wasn’t easy for Simon coming right off the court having played the last match of the night.
“I don’t want to think about it right now,” said Simon, when asked about the semifinal. “I will try to recover from this one.”
Murray holds a 14-2 winning record over Simon so he’ll know what to expect in the entanglement.
“Gilles, I have obviously played against a lot,” Murray said. “It feels like we have played almost every year since I’ve been on the tour at least once, so I know his game.”
In doubles, quarterfinal action signaled the early departure of top seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Bruno Soares of Brazil, who fell to Henri Kontinen of Finland and John Peers of Australia 6-3, 7-6 (4).