ATP Marseille: Pouille halts Herbert. Zverev, Muller, Mahut are all through


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ATP Marseille: Pouille halts Herbert. Zverev, Muller, Mahut are all through

The French veteran Julien Benneteau is on another great run in front of the home crowd after reaching the semi-final in Paris last fall, ousting the 5th seed Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 7-6 in 2 hours and 11 minutes. Benneteau blasted 25 aces and saved eight out of nine break points to stay in touch with a better-ranked rival in their first meeting on the Tour.

Bautista Agut played better on his second serve and he had to play against four break points, losing serve once just like Benneteau to stay in contention until the very last point. Nine of 13 break points were seen in the first four games of the match as they needed some time to find the range of their shots, with a break in the opening game for Julien and in the fourth for Roberto.

They served well in the rest of the set to reach the tie break and the Frenchman took it 7-2 after four mini-breaks under his belt. He was a set in front but Bautista Agut pushed him on the return at the start of the second, creating three break points in the early stages and sailing through his service games to keep the pressure on the other side of the net.

Benneteau did well to fend off those break points and returners won just six points in the last nine service games to hit another tie break, a must-win one for the Spanish player. He stayed in touch until 5-5 before Julien got the crucial mini break that earned the win for him, crossing the finish line on his serve in the following point to stay on the title course.

Nicolas Mahut earned his second singles win of the season after toppling Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5 7-6 in an hour and 26 minutes. It was a very fine serving display from the Frenchman, dropping just 11 points on serve and never facing a break point to keep the pressure on the young Greek.

Stefanos struggled to keep that pace in his games but he had to play against only two break points, dropping serve once in the first set and falling in the second set tie break to hit an early exit. Nothing could separate the rivals in the opening 10 games of the match with easy holds and good shotmaking and the pivotal moment occurred in game 11 when Tsitsipas got broken at love after a huge forehand error.

That was all Mahut needed to bring the opener home in the following game, taking a 7-5 lead with a nice drop shot that stayed out of Tsitsipas' reach. Carried by this momentum, the Frenchman lost just three points on serve in set number two and Stefanos had to work hard to reach the tie break, saving a break point in game seven to stay on the right course.

Mahut seized a huge 4-1 advantage in the breaker with two mini-breaks and he crossed the finish line with a service winner in the 11th point to reach round two. The third seed Lucas Pouille needed 2 hours and 5 minutes to oust the fellow Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 3-6 7-6 6-4, being two points away from the defeat twice in the second set tie break. Pouille won four points more than Herbert and they were neck and neck in the most of the match, with four break points and two breaks on each side.

Herbert claimed a 3-0 lead after just eight minutes with a break in game two and he served well in the rest of the set for a 6-3, closing it with a nice drop shot that stayed out of Pouille's reach. Lucas struggled in his games and he faced two break points early in the second set that could cost him the match, but he saved them to stay in touch and wait for something on the return.

He got the chance in game six and the break was in his hands when Pierre-Hugues sent a forehand long, moving 4-2 ahead. Herbert pulled the break back immediately with a backhand return winner and the set went into a tie break.

It was a close one and they were locked up at 5-5 with a mini-break on each side before Herbert made a huge forehand error to give Lucas a set point. The third seed failed to convert it and but he won the next point with a service winner to earn his second set point, this time on Herbert's serve.

He placed a nice return under Pierre-Hugues' feet and that was enough to win the breaker 8-6 and force the decider. The momentum was on his side and he lost four points in five service games to put Herbert under all kind of pressure.

Pouille scored the crucial break in game nine and he sealed the deal with a forehand winner in the next game, mighty releaved that he managed to pass a tough obstacle and stay on the title course. Wednesday's results:

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