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Estrella Burgos Wins at Open de Nice Cote d’Azur
Victor Estrella Burgos became the first man to advance to the second round of the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur after defeating American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-2 on Sunday. The Dominican, who successfully defending his Ecuador Open Quito title in February, improved to 9-8 on the year. He will next face fifth seed Joao Sousa or French wild card Quentin Halys.
Kudla came into the tournament at a career-high No. 56 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, but was broken four times and succumbed in 66 minutes.
Ramos-Vinolas Advances at Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open
Albert Ramos-Vinolas battled past Temuraz Gabashvili 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in two hours and 20 minutes to move into the second round in Geneva. The Spaniard only won 39 per cent of second-serve points, but broke Gabashvili five times to secure the win.
Russian Andrey Kuznetsov eased past Israel’s Dudi Sela 6-3, 6-1 in under one hour in the first round. Kuznetsov did not drop serve and broke serve four times. He could next face countryman Mikhail Youzhny or seventh seed Steve Johnson.
For the second time in eight days, Murray and Djokovic battled for an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title. The Scot released his rival's grip on the FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry, which had seen Djokovic win 12 of their previous 13 encounters after lifting the Mutua Madrid Open trophy a week ago. Murray clinched a 12th Masters 1000 crown and second on clay, after capturing the title last year in Madrid (d. Nadal).
Djokovic, meanwhile, fell in his quest to add a fifth Rome crown to his haul, having emerged victorious in 2008, '11 & '14-15. The World No. 1 was also bidding to become the first player to capture 30 Masters 1000 titles, in addition to crossing the $100 million mark in career prize money.
Here is how the final unfolded...
FIRST SET - Murray 6-3
Murray was the fresher of the two gladiators at the start, earning a trio of break chances in Djokovic's first service game. The top seed would deny them all, with Murray missing a backhand approach shot to the open court on his third. Djokovic would secure the critical early hold after more than 11 minutes, as rain drops started to descend on the Foro Italico. But the World No. 1 would not be as fortunate two games later. Murray drew a backhand error with a forehand rifled deep into the ad court, grabbing the first break of the match for 3-1.
The World No. 3 was eager to pounce on balls left short in the court and dictate from the baseline, as he did in efficiently notching the second set a week ago in Madrid. Murray also looked to hit behind Djokovic often and force the Serb to change direction in the slippery conditions, a tactic Nishikori employed with great success in the semi-finals. He would win 16 of his first 19 service points, punctuating a 5-2 lead with an ace down the T. As the skies opened once again and the rain returned, Murray wrapped up the opener 6-3 with a sublime forehand drop shot winner. He would take the first set after just 46 minutes, striking 11 winners, including five off his forehand wing.
SECOND SET - Murray 6-3
Striking his forehand deep to Djokovic's backhand, Murray was poised to put a stranglehold on the match with a break point at 2-2 30/40. A rifled second serve return left Djokovic reeling, as the 29 year old came forward and put away an easy winner to secure the break.
Entering a critical moment at 4/3 30/30, Murray, who was 0/7 on second serve points, went big with his second offering to hold for 5-3. He secured the title a game later as Djokovic's serve crumbled. The World No. 1 double faulted to give Murray his first match point and a lasered backhand winner secured the victory, his first in the Italian capital. The second seed prevailed after one hour and 35 minutes.
Watch highlights as Bob and Mike Bryan rally to win the 2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia title. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com.
A LOOK BACK
Lecoq Seoul Open (Seoul, Korea): In the biggest comeback this year in an ATP Challenger Tour final, Sergiy Stakhovsky saved seven match points to defeat No. 7 seed Yen-Hsun Lu, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7). The win gives Stakhovsky the fifth Challenger title of his career and his first since prevailing in 2014 in Orleans, France. It also puts him back inside the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings. The only other ATP Challenger Tour final this year to feature saved match points en route to victory was Andrey Golubev denying four over Karen Khachanov in Jonkoping, Sweden.
Despite the loss, Lu has plenty of positives to take away from the week. His appearance in Seoul was his first tournament in six months after having elbow surgery at the beginning of the year.
BNP Paribas Primrose (Bordeaux, France): No. 7 seed Rogerio Dutra Silva won the biggest title of his career by defeating Bjorn Fratangelo, 6-3, 6-1. The victory gives the Brazilian his seventh ATP Challenger Tour title and he has now lifted at least one winner’s trophy in each of the last six years. Prior to Bordeaux, his best result this year was a runner-up finish at the $50,000 event last March in Santiago, Chile.
Fratangelo is projected to move up to No. 103 in the Emirates ATP Rankings when next week’s standings are released. He prevailed in last month’s $50,000 tournament in Tallahassee, Florida.
NeckarCup (Heilbronn, Germany): Nikoloz Basilashvili won his second ATP Challenger Tour title of 2016 by defeating No. 6 Jan-Lennard Struff, 6-4, 7-6(3). The Georgian was also a winner last March at the $50,000 tournament in Guangzhou, China.
The week in Heilbronn was still another successful one for Struff, though. He lifted the winner’s trophy here in 2014 and recorded a semi-final showing last year.
Samarkand Challenger (Samarkand, Uzbekistan): #NextGen star and top seed Karen Khachanov picked up his first ATP Challenger Tour title of 2016 by defeating Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo, 6-1, 6-7(6), 6-1. A backlog of matches due to rain meant that Khachanov prevailed in all five of his matches in less than 72 hours. He is now the fifth teenager this year to win an ATP Challenger Tour title.
2016 ATP Challenger Tour Teen Titlists
Title Taylor Fritz
18 years, 2 months
Happy Valley (AUS)
18 years, 4 months
19 years, 6 months
19 years, 9 months
19 years, 11 months
Ramirez Hidalgo made ATP Challenger Tour history with his inspired run by becoming the oldest player to reach a Challenger singles final at 38 years, 4 months. With 391 wins under his belt, he’s also closing in on becoming the first player to ever win 400 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour.
A LOOK AHEAD
There are two Challengers on the calendar for this week, with the $50,000 event in Mestre, Italy, taking top billing. Five players in the draw are ranked inside the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, with World No. 53 and local favourite Paolo Lorenzi claiming the No. 1 seed. World No. 70 Dusan Lajovic is the No. 2 seed and World No. 92 Gastao Elias, a winner last month in Turin, Italy, is the No. 4 seed. Other notable names in the draw include No. 5 seed Constant Lestienne, a winner earlier this month in Ostrava, Czech Republic, and teenager Ernesto Escobedo, who finished as runner-up last month in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
A new edition to the schedule is the $50,000 Challenger in Bangkok, Thailand. World No. 97 Sam Groth is the top seed, while Yen-Hsun Lu will look to go one win further this week as the No. 2 seed. Other notable names in the draw include former World No. 44 and No. 4 seed Lukas Lacko, and No. 7 seed Ze Zhang, a runner-up at two ATP Challenger Tour events this year.
ATP CHALLENGER TOUR ON TWITTER: New in 2016, the ATP Challenger Tour has launched a dedicated Twitter account for the latest news and information about players and events. Follow @ATPChallengerTour at twitter.com/ATPChallengerTour.
The Bryans improved to 112-53 in tour-level finals with their 22nd match win of the season (22-8). They split €222,150 in prize money and earned 1,000 Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings points.
Bob Bryan: "I would have never thought we would have got to that number. It sounds crazy. When we won our first title back in 2001, we were looking at 10 - that was the brothers' record, held by Tim Gullikson and Tom Gullikson. We beat that and we just kept going. Luckily we've been healthy. This feels good. We turned 38 last week and we're not young chicks any more. It's nice to get titles when we can and every one feels good."
Pospisil and Sock, who had won three of their past five meetings, raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set. The match was suspended due to rain with the Bryans leading 1-0 in the second set.
Upon the resumption of play, the Bryans broke twice to take a 5-1 lead and, in the next game, they failed to convert their first set point opportunity.
The Bryans won the first five points in the Match tie-break, but Pospisil and Sock worked they way back to a 7/8 deficit.
Mike Bryan said, "The rain delay definitely helped us. Our coach [David Macpherson] was back in the locker room, where we had about 15 minutes, and he said, 'Fire it up!' We were kind of flat in the first set and weren't playing with a lot of energy. We had a late match and Bob went to bed at 4 a.m. in the morning. So we were kind of dazed and confused. We were bouncing around in the second set. We played a good Match tie-break, which can go either way."
"We're sharing a room this week," said Bob Bryan. "You fell asleep around 2:30, 2:45 a.m., because you started snoring. We drank so much coffee last night that I was wired. It was a 12-hour turnaround. Our bodies don't turn around quickly anymore."
Pospisil and Sock earned 600 points and shared €108,750 in prize money. They are now 4-5 in team finals (1-5 in ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals).
The Bryans will now go their separate ways to prepare for Roland Garros, the second Grand Slam championship of the season.
Mike Bryan said, "Bob's going to go back to Miami to see his wife and three kids. He'll be on the ground for three days. Hopefully he's going first class to lay out and recover. I'll be spending time in London, then off to Paris. We'll head to the gym and hit the courts a lot. I think we're playing great right now, we're healthy, mentally fresh and happy since winning this. We just want to keep the momentum going."
Bob Bryan added, "It's a massive goal of ours to win another Slam. We want to do it this year. We've still got lofty goals, we're not lowering the bar. We still want to finish No. 1, win Slams, the Olympic. We want to do it all. We're very hungry. It's been a quiet six months. This year, we've won a 250 [Houston], 500 [Barcelona] and now a Masters 1000. The next step is a Slam."
* FINALS PREVIEW: In a re-match of the ATP Masters 1000 Madrid final, and perhaps a preview of the Roland Garros final, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will meet for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia title on Sunday. Serving for the Madrid title, the World No. 1 saved seven break points to complete a 62 36 63 victory over Murray on May 8. Should he capture his fifth Rome championship, Djokovic would become the first tennis player to exceed $100,000,000 in prize money and extend his own record with a 30th ATP Masters 1000 singles title.
Murray is also making history this week as the first Brit to reach the Rome final in the Open Era. He will return to No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on Monday just in time for Roland Garros seedings. A key to Murray's success of late has been his improvement on clay. He had a 63-37 clay-court record with no finals appearances entering the 2015 season. Murray is 28-3 on clay since then, highlighted by back-to-back titles at Munich and Madrid last May. However, Murray is 0-4 against Djokovic on clay and 9-23 overall, losing 12 of 13 meetings since the 2013 Wimbledon final.
Relive the best moments from the 2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com.
Watch highlights as Andy Murray beats Novak Djokovic to win the Rome title. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com. Photo: Getty Images
On his 29th birthday, Andy Murray becomes the first British man to win in Rome since 1931. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com.
Relive the best points from the 2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com.
Federer, already considered an all-time great, was the dominant force on the ATP World Tour. But a teenager in a sleeveless top and pirate shorts, striking vicious forehands, had established a psychological advantage with victory over the World No. 1 in four of their previous five meetings.
As a result, the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on 14 May 2006 became terrific theatre, a 'must-see' for sports' lovers, let along fans, media and those closely associated with professional tennis.
"It was an unforgettable match, five hours and something," Nadal told ATPWorldTour.com. "It was an unbelievable comeback for me in the fifth. I think for both of us, it was a very, very high level. We enjoyed it and we had fun. Both of us had chances to win the match. For me it was great to be part of that match."
Federer told ATPWorldTour.com, "I remember the five-hour battle, the crowds were unbelievable. I also think the level of the match was big; Rafa and I were both at the top of our games."
Nadal had beaten Federer in a thrilling Monte-Carlo final three weeks earlier. Federer had remarked afterwards, "I've got to play aggressive. He leaves me no choice."
Throughout the Rome final, the Swiss adopted serve and volley tactics sparingly, punched precisely into the corners and followed his strokes to the net to keep Nadal off balance and leave the court wide open. "I worked my forehand way more than in Monaco," said Federer, who won 64 of his 84 points at the net. "I also did more with my backhand too."
Federer controlled play in the majority of the opening two sets, but out of the blue Nadal gained a set point opportunity when Federer served at 4-5, 30/40. Federer saved it with a terrific lunge volley, as Nadal looked certain to pass him down the line. When Federer lost a 4/2 lead in the tie-break, Nadal, undeterred, wrestled away the momentum.
Later, World No. 2 Nadal broke a net-rushing Federer with a backhand crosscourt pass at 2-2 in the third set and had chances to break early in the fourth, only to see Federer step up with forehand winners in the first game. Federer was off the hook and broke Nadal's serve at 1-2, when the Spaniard anticipated a cross-court stroke only to see Federer strike a forehand winner down the line.
Federer continued to attack and went on to gain a stranglehold at 4-1 in the fifth set. Nadal then started to hit his groundstrokes within one yard of the baseline and targeted Federer's single-handed backhand with his vicious topspin to work his way back into the match. But Federer's level did not drop in his 13th consecutive final appearance.
He held two championship points after Nadal hit the first double fault of the match at 5-6, 15/30. The Swiss squandered hit first opportunity with a backhand long, then rushed a forehand down the line to let Nadal off the hook. "I tried to hit a winner, why not?" said Federer, who finished on 89 unforced errors. "I didn't try to totally hit a winner, but tried to play aggressive and I was a little late on it. I couldn't get quite over the first point in time. I guess, the first match point cost me the match."
Despite the setback, Federer went on to lead 5/3 in the tie-break only to mis-hit a forehand for a three-point cushion. "He caught me right on the finish line," said Federer. Nadal went on to play nerve-free tennis to win four straight points, falling to the crushed brick at the end of a brutal, exciting five-hour and six-minute encounter. "It was more difficult for me to play against him here," said Nadal, who had not lost a clay-court match in more than 12 months. "It was a very emotional match... This one is special. It's unbelievable for me."
At 19 years of age, Nadal had tied Guillermo Vilas' Open Era record of 53 straight match wins on a clay, which had stood since an October 1977 loss in Aix-en-Provence to Ilie Nastase, who played with a subsequently outlawed spaghetti racquet. Nadal admitted, "Before each tournament, I'm always thinking, 'this week I’m going to lose.' But I have been lucky this year and won.” The win, Nadal's 13th straight final triumph, also tied Bjorn Borg’s record for 16 titles won as a teenager.
It had taken Nadal eight minutes longer to beat Guillermo Coria in the previous year's final, but the Spaniard's 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6(5) victory over Federer firmly cemented their rivalry for the ages.
Just as millions had done in years past for matches featuring Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, fans decisively took sides on 14 May 2006. Federer or Nadal, in support of their contrasting styles. Federer was the purists' favourite, a classicist, while Nadal was the relentless, physical fighter.
Two years later, Federer and Nadal pushed the bar even higher in the 2008 Wimbledon final, widely considered the sport's greatest match. "We played against each other on many occasions in a short period of time. It was a time when we met each other a lot in finals and Rome was one of the best, alongside the 2008 Wimbledon final," Federer told ATPWorldTour.com. Today, Nadal leads 23-11 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Novak Djokovic spoke earlier this week about how staying injury-free has been the key to him remaining at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, but the Serbian suffered a self-inflicted injury during his semi-final against Kei Nishikori at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome.
The World No. 1 attempted to clean his shoes with his racquet in the first game of the match, but instead ended up whacking his left ankle with the frame. Although Djokovic managed to hold serve that game, he received a medical timeout afterward to patch up a blister on his ankle bone.
“Awkward situation,” he admitted. “I hit myself pretty hard and actually have a bruised bone [that] was hurting for a while.”
Djokovic’s movement appeared compromised in the first set after his ankle snafu, but he found his speed as the match progressed. He continued to chase down balls after more three hours of play, but said that the pain in his ankle “returned towards the end of the match.”
Although he acknowledged that the timing of the ankle problem isn’t ideal, Djokovic is confident that he will be able to move freely during Sunday’s championship match against Andy Murray.
“I hope that tomorrow it’s going to be fine,” he said. “I don’t have too much time to recover, but I have had these particular situations a few times in my career. I’ll try to get the best out of it and get on the court giving my all, as always.”
In typical fashion, Djokovic was able to find humor in the situation and jokingly offered some advice to recreational players.
“Message to all the kids out there,” he said. “Be aware, when you’re cleaning your shoes, make sure the frame hits your shoe.”
In the heat of the moment, almost anything can happen on a tennis court. Just ask Novak Djokovic.
During the third set of his semi-final win at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Saturday, Djokovic lost a hard-fought rally against Kei Nishikori to put himself break point down against the Japanese star. The World No. 1 was about to start his pre-serve routine when chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani told him to look down at his racquet – Djokovic was about to attempt to save a break point with a broken string.
“It’s a very unusual occurrence, but sometimes, due to crowd noise, the player does not realise that his strings are broken,” ATP Supervisor Lars Graff, a former Gold Badge chair umpire, said. “It is then the duty of the chair umpire to inform the player. The rules are very clear that a player cannot start a point with broken strings.”
After his initial confusion cleared, Djokovic cracked a smile and walked to his bag to pick up a new frame. He would go on to save that break point and win the match in a third-set tie-break.
Not even a cut foot can stop Novak Djokovic.
The World No. 1 overcame a dogged effort from Kei Nishikori and an ankle abrasion to reach the final at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) on Saturday. Bidding for his third consecutive Rome title and fifth overall (2008, '11, '14-15), Djokovic will battle rival Andy Murray in his 42nd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. He took sole possession of the all-time title lead with a 29th crown a week ago at the Mutua Madrid Open.
How do you beat Djokovic? Taking away his movement goes a long way. The Serb, who received a medical timeout for a cut on his left ankle after the first game, was on the back foot from the start. Nishikori turned in an exhibition in agility, taking the initiative from the back of the court and tracking down everything Djokovic fired his way.
Taking advantage of the World No. 1's compromised movement, the Japanese provided a heavy dose of drop shots. A forehand drop shot winner would give him a break for 2-1 and a rifled backhand down-the-line saw him secure a double break for 5-2. He closed out the set after 43 minutes. One week removed from a semi-final encounter on the clay of Madrid, won by Djokovic, Nishikori snapped the Serb's streak of 10 consecutive sets won in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry.
"From the beginning, he was showing that he knew what his game plan is and he came out on the court with intent, hitting the ball along lines, cross-courts, both sides, being aggressive on the return. It was a flawless first set," said Djokovic. "And then I knew that I'm going to have a little opening where I'm supposed to step in and try to use that, which I did."
Nishikori was poised to carry the surge in momentum into the second set, saving four break points (from 0/40) in his first service game and denying two more later in the set. He would bring his total to a perfect 9/9 saved, turning defence into offence in a blink. But a rejuvenated Djokovic raised his level at a critical moment, forcing a decider with a clutch break on his first set point in the 10th game. Keeping points short, with 21 won under five shots, the top seed sent the semi-final the distance.
With the momentum now firmly in his corner, Djokovic lost his limp from the foot abrasion and rediscovered his range, grabbing a quick break in the second game of the third set. But Nishikori battled hard, throwing everything in his arsenal at the World No. 1 to break back for 4-4. A body serve and inside-out forehand winner saw the 26 year old save match point at 5-4 and he would force a deciding tie-break, which was Djokovic's first in nearly two years. After saving two additional match points, including a lasered forehand down the line, the Japanese was unable to survive a fourth, as the two-time defending champion returned to the final after three hours and two minutes.
"One point [was the difference]," said Djokovic. "Today it was 112 to 111 points won. So one point. At this level, this particular match is a great example of how it can be decided, in clutch moments and very few shots. Sometimes the luck can go your way, sometimes not. But the only thing you can do is influence your own capabilities on the court and your own focus and things that you can do best."
Djokovic extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead over Nishikori to 9-2 overall and 4-0 in 2016 and will look to build on a 23-9 advantage over Murray in Sunday's final. He has claimed 12 of the previous 13 encounters against the Scot.
"I'm really disappointed," said Nishikori. "I was playing really good tennis in the first set. I was playing aggressive. I think I stopped doing that in second set. Also, he started playing better. In the third, I think I could have been a little better and he was giving me a lot of pressure and I wasn't making many first serves. So that was costing me a lot of points.
"In the tie-break I made too many unforced errors and three in a row from 3-all. That was the biggest mistake today."
It has been an adventurous week for Djokovic, who rallied from a 0-6 opening set against Thomaz Bellucci in the third round and survived a thrilling clash against Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals. The 28 year old has now won 17 straight meetings against Top 10 opponents. In total, Djokovic is appearing in his 91st tour-level final, bidding for title No. 65.
It’s not uncommon for doubles specialists to stay on tour well into their 30s, but Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo is still playing –and winning– singles matches at age 38.
The veteran reached his first ATP Challenger Tour final in three years at this week’s $50,000 event in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Ramirez Hidalgo broke new ground with his inspired performance by becoming the oldest singles finalist in ATP Challenger Tour history at 38 years, four months (surpassing the record held since 2009 by Dick Norman at 38 years, 1 month). The championship match against 19-year-old #NextGen star Karen Khachanov, which he lost in three sets, was also the largest age gap in a final this year.
Making the feat even more impressive is that a backlog of matches due to rain forced Ramirez Hidalgo to play four singles matches in two days. Despite this, he continued to grind down with his superior fitness, outlasting 21-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan in a marathon semi-final on Friday that finished with the Spaniard blanking the Indian in a third-set tie-break.
Even though he’s now well into his 18th year on tour, Ramirez Hidalgo said he’s still as eager as ever to win.
“I’m playing in Samarkand with the same enthusiasm as if I was playing the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in Rome,” said Ramirez Hidalgo. “I still love to play and compete, so if I can’t do it in Rome, I’ll look to do it wherever I can. I’m fortunate to still be able to pursue the game that has always been my first love.”
The Spaniard is also closing in on another record this year. He is just nine match wins away from becoming the first player to win 400 matches on the ATP Challenger Tour.
"To reach that number would mean that I spent many years of my life playing the sport I love and can take many good moments that will remain with me," said Ramirez Hidalgo. "I don't know if they'll remain in the memory of the fans, but they will definitely remain in mine."
Ramirez Hidalgo is still able to produce consistent results on the ATP Challenger Tour. He reached the semi-finals of the $50,000 event this January in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and posted quarter-final showings at three other events. He’s also still showing the new generation of upcoming players that age has little to do with ability; at last month’s ATP Challenger Tour event in Nanjing, China, Ramirez Hidalgo handily defeated #NextGen star Yoshihito Nishioka in the opening round.
Although he acknowledges that he’s in the latter stages of his career, the Spaniard is determined to make his pro career last for as long as it possibly can.
“At 38, I’m trying to enjoy my last matches because I’m aware that my career has an end and that my end is getting closer every time,” said Ramirez Hidalgo. “People ask me why I still keep doing this at my age and it’s simply because I love what I do. Every match is still enjoyable, just like when I was a kid.”
When he decides to stop playing, he’ll have plenty to keep occupied between the academy he runs with former ATP World Tour pro Santiago Ventura in Alicante, Spain, and his two daughters that he raises with his wife, Christina. Perhaps most importantly, though, he’ll be able to walk away without any regrets.
“Tennis has given me more than I could have ever imagined,” said Ramirez Hidalgo.. I’m able to say that I was able to travel the world and play every major tournament I watched on television when I was growing up. I had the chance to live what I dreamed about as a child.”
Watch Rome doubles final live on TennisTV.com Sunday 3:00pm CEST / 9:00am EDT
The American twins claimed the victory on their second match point at 1:06am in Rome, after Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori sent the doubles affair deep into the night with a three-hour singles semi-final to open the evening session. The Bryans will appear in their seventh final at the Foro Italico, having lifted the trophy in 2008 (d. Nestor/Zimonjic), 2010 (d. Isner/Querrey) and 2013 (d. Bhupathi/Bopanna). They own a 35-18 record in ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals and will bid for their third tour-level crown overall in 2016 (Houston, Barcelona).
Earlier on Saturday, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock reached their second Masters 1000 final of the season as they defeated Florin Mergea and Rohan Bopanna 7-6(4), 7-6(2), setting a sixth meeting against the Bryans. They own a 3-2 lead in the FedEx ATP Head2Head series, most recently taking a quarter-final battle at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris.
"It was a high-level match today," said Pospisil. "We executed well and returned well in the tie-breaks and on the big points and that's what got us through. Overall it was a solid performance in all aspects. We are playing better and gaining confidence with every match. We have one more to go to get the title, so we'll go out there tomorrow and fight for it."
The Canadian/American duo rallied from an early break down in the first set to clinch the opener in a tie-break. They failed to convert match point when serving at 5-3 in the second set, but regrouped to prevail in another tie-break after 85 minutes.
Pospisil and Sock were runners-up at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells (l. to Herbert/Mahut) in March. The 2014 Wimbledon champions are chasing their fifth tour-level title together and first since Beijing in October 2015.
Novak Djokovic remembers how he won one of the best points of the season to clinch the first set against Rafael Nadal on Friday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Watch live matches at tennistv.com
"I don't remember winning any matches, really, on my birthday which isn't a great sign," joked Murray. "Hopefully tomorrow that will change."
Murray has now reached the final of eight of the nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000s, with Monte-Carlo (where he has reached the semi-finals three times) the only exception. The right-hander will look to lift his 12th Masters 1000 trophy and first since August 2015, when he won in Montreal (d. Djokovic).
"I think I have made some improvements in my game [in the past year]," said Murray. "Last year I was winning a lot of matches at this time of the year, but I do think I'm playing better tennis this year. I think my serve has been a big improvement for me.
Rain delayed the start of the semi-final action in Rome, with the match beginning at the revised time of shortly after 3pm. Murray made the stronger start, breaking for a 3-1 lead with a forehand winner after chasing down a Pouille drop shot.
A heavy but brief rain shower caused a 13-minute delay with Murray serving at 4-2, 40/0. At the resumption, the Scot swiftly claimed a 5-2 lead. He then broke Pouille for a second time to clinch the opener, converting his third set point as Pouille hit his forehand long.
Murray raced through the second set, breaking Pouille in the fourth and sixth games before claiming victory in 59 minutes.
Speaking in a post-match TV interview, Murray said, "It's actually the first time ever since I've been on tour that I've not had chance to hit balls before we got on court. It's pretty much rained non-stop, then they flipped the schedule around and we were on straightaway when the rain stopped. So I didn't feel that comfortable coming out on the court. Obviously the break as well at 4-2 was tricky. He made quite a few mistakes and I served well today and made it easier for myself."
The 28-year-old Murray is through to his fourth ATP World Tour clay-court final. The Scot won his first two titles on the dirt last year in Munich and Madrid. Last week he fell just short of retaining his Madrid crown as he lost to Novak Djokovic in the final at the Caja Magica.
The 22-year-old Pouille has been the luckiest of lucky losers this week. After falling to Mikhail Kukushkin in the final round of qualifying, the Frenchman was granted a main draw berth when Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrew. He beat Ernests Gulbis and David Ferrer to reach the quarter-finals, where he received a walkover after Juan Monaco withdrew.
World No. 52 Pouille is the first lucky loser to reach the semi-finals of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament since Thomas Johansson in Toronto in 2004. His run this week is set to see him rise to a career-high of around No. 32 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on Monday.
"Honestly I started pretty well," said Pouille. "Andy is a great player. He's returning all your serves. So if you don't have a great percentage of first serves, then it's very tough. He's very offensive, puts pressure on your serves. I did not make that the best match of my life, but I think today he was much better.
Watch Saturday doubles highlights from Rome as the Bryans prevail at 1am, setting a final encounter against Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil. Watch live tennis at tennistv.com.