French qualifier Herbert maintains marathon run

(Reuters) - Marathon man Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France delivered another Houdini-like escape to reach his first ATP World Tour final with a 3-6 7-6(5) 6-2 victory over American Steve Johnson at the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina on Friday.

Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France hits a shot during his match against Bernard Tomic of Australia at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in London, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

The French qualifier will meet second-seed Kevin Anderson in the final, after the South African outlasted Tunisian Malek Jaziri 6-4 6-3 in the other semi-final.

Herbert, playing his eighth match in seven days, came from a set down against the 13th-seeded Johnson and shrugged off an early break in the second to win a roller-coaster contest in one hour, 40 minutes.

Herbert, a doubles specialist who is ranked 140th in the singles, broke Johnson’s serve twice in the third set and powered down 19 aces during the match to reach the final.

“I’m taking every day step by step, point by point, and trying not to think,” Herbert, who needed almost two hours to beat Spaniard Pablo Carreno-Busta 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 in the quarters, told reporters.

“Maybe that’s why I’m capable of being there (in the final). I cannot believe it, really. I’m really tired.”

The 49th-ranked Johnson had benefited from a walkover to reach the last four after Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun withdrew from their quarter-final on Thursday because of a back injury.

Herbert, a 24-year-old from Alsace, will be the underdog in the final against Anderson at the Wake Forest Tennis Center on Saturday.

But if Herbert prevails, he would become the first qualifier to win an ATP World Tour title after playing nine matches since Spaniard Roberto Carretero triumphed in Hamburg in 1996.

Herbert is the eighth qualifier to reach an ATP World Tour final this year.

In the nightcap, Anderson almost dropped the first game against Jaziri but recovered from 40-0 down to hold serve and pave the way for a comfortable victory.

“My serve, I feel like it’s my biggest strength,” said Anderson, who has two ATP titles.

“Even on those break points, down love-40, I feel I can navigate my way out of those games.”

Jaziri, ranked 88th in the world, had to work hard to hold serve throughout, though he negotiated his way out of some tight spots against his higher-ranked opponent and was only broken once in each set.

Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by John O’Brien