WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis blended some timely serving with his tiebreak artistry to cruise past Xavier Malisse 6-2 7-6 Saturday and reach the final of the Washington Classic.
The 25th-ranked Baghdatis landed only 43 percent of his first serves on a humid day in Washington but was broken only once to reach his first-ever final in the United States.
“It was a tough one but I played really, really smart,” said Baghdatis. “I played the perfect game to beat Xavier. I played the right shot at the right time.
“I kept the ball in the court. I was fitter than him.”
Baghdatis, searching for his second title of the year, will play the winner of Saturday’s other semi-final between fourth-seed Marin Cilic of Croatia, ranked 13th in the world, and 2002 Wimbledon finalist David Nalbandian of Argentina.
The affable Cypriot was successful on only 36 percent of his first serves in the opening set but blasted five aces by Malisse and never lost his serve, facing just one break point.
Malisse was error-prone in the opening frame, especially from the backhand side, but the 30-year-old Belgian found his stride in the second set with his booming forehand.
“When you lose 6-2 you basically have nothing to lose and you go for your shots a little more,” said Malisse, ranked 62nd and unseeded in Washington. “Once they start going in, your confidence starts going up.”
Baghdatis broke Malisse in the 11th game to take a 6-5 lead but the Belgian returned the favor in the next game to prolong the match and force a tiebreaker.
Baghdatis raced to a 6-1 lead in the tiebreaker before winning 7-4 when Malisse punched a backhand into the net.
Baghdatis, who has an impressive 11-3 record in tiebreakers this year, said he believes he has an advantage when a set reaches 6-6.
“I’m good at important points,” he said with a smile. “That’s an advantage to me. I like the pressure. I’m smart. I do the right thing. The first two points today I had aces.
“I put pressure on the other guy with the return. I’m just so focused.”
Malisse, who had three three-set matches this week, admitted he did not have much left in the tank but said the difference was Baghdatis’s ability to raise his game at the right time.
“He served better, especially on important points,” he said. “I had deuce on three or four games on his serve in the first set and every time he came up with a big serve. Same in the tiebreaker. He deserved to win.”
Editing by Dave Thompson