The last clay court match of the season on the main Tour will see Denis Istomin and Martin Klizan battle for the Kitzbuhel title in Austria. Both men have had disappointing seasons, with Klizan currently finding himself outside the top 100 at world #112 and Istomin only slightly above him at #95. But both have also shown throughout their careers they can score wins against even the very best. Who will lift the title?
Istomin and Klizan have met three times so far in their careers, with the two most recent meetings coming at Tour-level. Their first match saw them face off in Tashkent at a Challenger in 2009 in the first round, but Klizan was forced to retire after only two games. Istomin scored a more decisive victory over the Slovakian four years later in Brisbane, winning 6-1 6-2 in the first round. But a year later in the Munich quarterfinals it was Klizan who won as he beat Istomin 7-6 1-6 6-1.
Path to the final
Istomin’s Kitzbuhel campaign began in the qualifying, where he beat Elliot Benchetrit and Thiago Monteiro to reach the main draw. There he dismissed Federico Delbonis 7-6 6-2 in first round action before rallying to defeat second seed Philipp Kohlschreiber 5-7 6-3 6-1. Istomin then conquered sixth seed Maximilian Marterer 6-3 6-3 in the quarterfinals to set up a clash with the in-form Nicolas Jarry. It was close, but Istomin scraped through a 7-5 6-7 6-4 winner.
Klizan also had to qualify into Kitzbuhel, doing so with victories over Facundo Bagnis and Gerard Melzer. He then beat home hope Sebastian Ofner, before stunning the crowd with a 6-1 1-6 7-5 upset win over French Open finalist and Austrian #1 Dominic Thiem to reach the quarterfinals. He was given tested there by the eighth seeded Serbian Dusan Lajovic, but he finished strongly to win 4-6 7-6 6-2. He then defeated Spanish young gun Jaume Munar 7-6 6-3 to reach the final.
How do they match up?
Istomin and Klizan both have a big game. The Uzbek has had the majority of his success on hard and grass courts which better suit his flat, driven groundstrokes, but he has shown a willingness to hit the ball with more topspin this week, particularly on the forehand side. He has also been serving well and has struck 23 aces so far in the main draw. But more important to his chances in the final than his serving will be his return game.
That’s because Klizan is equipped with a huge, lefty serve and he will look to use it to dominate Istomin. His forehand is tailor-made for clay court success, with the Slovakian whipping it with power and spin that only Nadal can better. He has used it to good effect so far in Kitzbuhel, breaking down the backhands of both Thiem and Lajovic with it. But he may find Istomin’s resistance sterner. The Uzbek’s two-hander is rock solid and Klizan may have more success targeting his forehand.
Both men come into this match battle-hardened with six wins this week and there is little to separate them. Both enjoy the big occasion and have already won Tour-level titles. What may prove decisive, however, is the surface. Whilst Istomin is a capable clay courter, his affinity for the surface does not compare favourably with Klizan’s. That should be enough to tip the balance in Klizan’s favour and expect the Slovakian to get the win in three.