21-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov struggled a little bit in the second part of 2017, failing to reach the semi-final after Halle. but he showed signs of improvements at the beginning of 2018, advancing to the quarter-final in Auckland and Montpellier before he made an extra step here in Marseille.
The 9th seed took down Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-2 in just 74 minutes for his second ATP final in a career (Chengdu 2016), saving all three break points and dominating on the return as well to score his second win over the Czech player. Karen was untouchable on his first serve and his second serve worked quite decent as well, losing 11 points in eight service games overall.
On the other hand, Berdych was in all kind of troubles in his games, facing no less than 14 break points and dropping serve on four occasions to hit the exit door and suffer his third defeat of the season. There were multiple break points up for grabs in five out of nine games in the opening set and the young Russian prevailed in the pivotal moments to seize the control.
The experienced Czech saved two break points in game three but Karen found the way to break him next time around, hitting a backhand cross court winner to gain a 3-2 lead. Things went from bad to worse for the fourth seed, facing another three break points in game seven and he saved them all to remain within one break deficit, looking for a chance on the return in the closing stages of the set.
It came in the following game when Kareh had to play against three break points in the only loose service game we witnessed in his games. Khachanov fends the danger away with a service winner and two solid attacks for an important hold and a 5-3 lead.
This put Tomas under an even bigger pressure and he double faulted to give his serve away in game nine and the opening set after 37 minutes. With the momentum on his side, Khackanov sailed through his service games in set number two and he was all over his rival on the return, pushing him to the limits in every game and scoring two breaks of serve to complete the win in no time at all.
Tomas wasted two game points at 1-2 and Karen broke him with a backhand down the line winner that moved him closer to the finish line, with a set and a break under his belt. Berdych survived another scare in game six, repelling two break points to reduce the deficit to 4-2 but Karen broke at love in game eight to book the place in the final, happy with the way he performed today.
Last year's finalist Lucas Pouille moves a win away from the title, beating the qualifier Ilya Ivashka 6-3 7-6 in an hour and 26 minutes for his eight ATP final and the second of the season (he won the title in Montpellier two weeks ago).
The Frenchman served at 53% and he struggled on his second serve, facing seven break points and losing serve twice. Ivashka is currently ranked 193rd and he had an amazing week, beating Stan Wawrinka (Stan retired after two games in the second set) to reach his first ATP semi-final.
He won just seven points less than Pouille but it wasn't enough to grab at least a set, getting broken three times from four break points he offered to Lucas. Both players were untouchable on the first serve in the opening set and there were just three break points up for grabs.
Pouille broke in game six when Ivashka netted a forehand and he served for the set at 5-3, only to offer a break point to Ilya. He saved it in a 12-shot rally and completed the set with a smash winner for a 6-3 after 32 minutes.
A volley winner sent Pouille 2-1 in front in set number two and he held at love in the game that followed to increase his lead and move closer to the finish line. Out of sudden, Ivashka broke back in game six after a double fault from his rival but he lost his focus in the closing stages of the set to fall 6-5 behind, allowing Lucas to serve for the match.
The 12th game proved to be by far the longest of the match, with five break points for the Belarusian and three match points for Pouille. After a real roller coaster Ilya broke back to set up a tie break and they were locked up at 5-5 to sail into an interesting closure.
Ilya had a set point at 6-5 but he sprayed a forehand long and Lucas converted his fourth match point at 7-6 to wrap up the win and reach the final. Semi-final results: