Pouille Keeps French Hopes Alive
Lucas Pouille came within two points of losing against Uruguayan No. 16 seed Pablo Cuevas on Friday, but fought back from a 3-5 deficit in the deciding set to win the quarter-final 6-0, 3-6, 7-5 in one hour and 58 minutes. The No. 11 seed kept hopes alive of a first French titlist at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters since Cedric Pioline hoisted the trophy in 2000 (d. Dominik Hrbaty).
Pouille, who reached his third ATP World Tour final at the Open 13 Marseille (l. to Tsonga) in February, will now take on Spanish No. 15 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas as they both attempt to reach their first title match at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. Ramos-Vinolas beat fifth seed Marin Cilic earlier in the day.
“I started well, hitting hard, not doing much, but being aggressive,” said Pouille. “I returned several times straight ahead, and he was surprised. But in the second set I had a letdown in my first service game. At 3-0 suddenly I felt the tension, and it was difficult to come back in that set. In the third set, it was very tight for both of us. He was able to break back, be up 5-4. After that, I made no mistakes. I played well until the end.
“I believed I could win. Even when I was down, I believed I still could turn it around. That made the difference. I didn’t miss. Even at 5-5, I saved a break point. That was a tough game. I was thinking, ‘He’s like me, I feel the tension, but he feels the tension too’. I was very happy I remained solid.”
Pouille did very little wrong in the 23-minute first set having recovered from 15/40 in his first service game. Cuevas received warm applause when he held for the first time, to 30, at the start of the second set and he went on to take a 4-0 lead. The pair’s first encounter then sparked into life.
Pouille led 2-0 in the decider, but Cuevas won five of the next six games and, on serve at 5-4, led 30/0 before nerves and two backhand errors let Pouille back in. At 5-5, Pouille let slip a 30/0 lead and was forced to save break point with a forehand winner. Then, roused by the predominantly French crowd, he clinched his 13th match win of 2017 when Cuevas dropped his serve to 30 with a backhand long. He first reached an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final at the 2016 Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome (l. to Murray).
Cuevas, who captured his third straight Brasil Open title in Sao Paulo (d. Ramos-Vinolas) last month, dropped to an 11-7 record on the season. Pouille will now attempt to emulate Gael Monfils, who reached the 2016 Monte-Carlo final (l. to Nadal), when he challenge Ramos-Vinolas for the second time on Saturday. Pouille beat Ramos-Vinolas in their only FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting at 2015 Auckland.
“Although he’s a lefty, he plays differently from Pablo,” said Pouille, when asked about facing Ramos-Vinolas. “He’s hitting hard. He doesn’t play fast. He doesn’t like to be under pressure. What I did in the first set today, I will also have to do tomorrow to make it difficult for him. I must not let him dictate from the baseline. I have to be the one dictating the points.