CHENNAI, April 10: He was off to a slow start. But as the match progressed, there was a perceptible change in Leander Paes' game and attitude. His volleying was sharp and his service had more sting. Overall, he was more charged up and bounded all over the court in his trademark style. And this time he did not falter and completed a 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 7-5 win over Gerard Solves of France to enter the semi-finals of the Gold Flake Open at the Nungambakkam Tennis stadium here on Friday.
A close encounter was on the cards with Paes ranked 128 and Solves 155. And the home crowd advantage seemed nullified by Solves' greater confidence after his morale-boosting victory over Boris Becker some 24 hours earlier. And the two-hour 23 minute match had its moments of mediocre and brilliant tennis.
Much of the former was confined to the first set. There were a number of unforced errors by both players. Paes more than eager to rush net, Solves more at home on the baseline from where his patent forehand, which troubled evenBecker yesterday, carried a lot of punch. Paes got the first break of serve in the fourth game but this was neutralised by Solves breaking back in the seventh. The set duly went into the tie-breaker which Solves always ahead, won 7-3.
Till midway through the second set, the passable trend of play continued. Then Paes, all pumped up, had a great ninth game on Solves' serve. Down 15-40, Paes rushed net on almost everything. The match came to life and Paes, motivated by the crowd who kept up a steady chant of ``come on, Leander'', broke Solves and held serve to level the set scores.
Paes broke Solves in the third game of the decider. But then he lapsed into errors again and Solves promptly broke back. But by now, it was clear that Paes was the hunter and Solves the hunted.
Finally, Paes achieved the all-important break in the 11th game, again touching the purple patch. Serving for the match, Paes reached 40-15. Solves saved one match point but Paes clinched a place in the semis when the Frenchman netted abackhand.
This was the first time Paes had entered the semi-final after the ATP tour entered India in 1996. Then at Delhi and again last year in Chennai he had lost in the first round. Incidentally, this is the Indian ace's fourth entry into an ATP tour semi-final. In 1996, he reached the penultimate round in Newport and last year made it to two more semifinals.
Woodbridge beats Pavel: Second seed Todd Woodbridge of Australia scored a 6-4, 6-4 victory over the No 8 seed Andrei Pavel of Romania to make the last four. Defending champion and fifth seeded Mikael Tillstrom of Sweden upset third seed Mark Woodforde of Australia to enter the semi-finals.
Late Thursday night, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi commenced the defence of their doubles title with a hard fought 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 victory over S Groen and A Pavel.
Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.