WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert advanced to the Winston-Salem Open final, beating 13th-seeded Steve Johnson of the U.S. 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2 on Friday.
Herbert, ranked 140th, will play second-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa on Saturday in the championship match at the Wake Forest Tennis Center. Anderson beat Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri 6-4, 6-3.
Herbert will play his ninth match in eight days. He won three qualifying matches to make the main draw, then won five more to advance to his first ATP World Tour final.
Herbert is in position to become the first player in 19 years to win nine matches en route to an ATP tournament title. Spain’s Roberto Carretero was the last, winning at Hamburg, Germany, in 1996.
“I cannot believe it, really,” Herbert said. “The last three days, it’s been really tough to wake up, really tough to practice, and really tough to go on the court. I’m really tired.
“I’m taking every day step by step, point by point, and trying not to think. Maybe that’s why I’m capable of being there (in the final).”
Yet, all the matches appeared to catch up to Herbert early in the semifinal.
Johnson, ranked 49th, broke Herbert’s serve once in winning the first set, broke him again to open the second set and nearly had two other service breaks.
But after saving three break points to hold his serve, Herbert appeared to get his second wind. He broke Johnson’s serve in the sixth game and held the rest of the way to force the tiebreaker, then won six of the last nine points in the tiebreaker to take the set.
“In France, we call it a ‘diesel start,’” Herbert said. “It’s not always easy to get into rhythm, and Steve was playing unbelievable - I maybe put one return in for the whole (first) set.
“He was playing great, aggressive and putting the pressure on me. Suddenly, I make one unbelievable game, and the pressure changed. It was on his side. It gave me confidence.”
Herbert went on to break Johnson’s serve twice in the third set - in the opening game of the set, and in the seventh to go up 5-2 - and hit eight of his 19 aces in easily controlling his serve.
“He hit three return winners,” in breaking his serve in the second set, Johnson said. “That’s the only time he did that all match, really. And in the third (set), I just didn’t play very well. Just not a good day of tennis by me.”
Anderson, ranked 15th, advanced to his third championship match this season - he also made finals at Memphis, Tennessee, and the Queen’s Club in London - and the 11th of his career.
The 6-foot-8 Anderson has two career ATP tournament titles, the last coming in 2012 at Delray Beach, Florida. Since that win, Anderson is 0 for 7 in championship matches.
“It was a very solid match,” Anderson said. “I felt coming in if I could do that, then I’d give myself the best shot possible of winning. But (Jaziri) set an interesting tempo for the match.”
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