It will be a clash of experience as Cyprus’ Marcos Baghdatis takes on Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the Chengdu Open final. Although unseeded, both men are now in their early thirties, having successfully competed on the ATP Tour for more than a decade.
Baghdatis was once ranked in the top ten of the world, a feat Istomin has never achieved. However, Istomin has been the slightly more consistent of the two players this year, and he appeared in the quarterfinals of the Moselle Open last week. Will Baghdatis storm to his fifth ATP title this week in Chengdu or will Istomin deny the Cypriot to win only his second singles title?
The rivalry between these two players goes back to 2009 when they first met on the hard courts of Tashkent in Uzbekistan. Despite Istomin enjoying home support there, Baghdatis rallied to win the match in three sets. They met again the following year in Moscow and Baghdatis once again won in three sets. However, this time the match was much closer as the score suggested. Baghdatis won it in a third-set tiebreak, 6-4 6-7 7-6. Istomin won the next meeting in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open in straight sets. A 2015 semifinal meeting in Nottingham ended abruptly as Baghdatis retired while leading 2-1 in the first set.
The 2017 season could not be worse for the 113th-ranked Baghdatis, whose best result this year has been a semifinal showing at Antalya in Turkey. The Cypriot began the year ranked 36 in the world but things just spiralled to a low from there. He will be desperate to end that negative run with a title this week in Chengdu.
World #78 Istomin, once ranked as high as 33 in the world, reached the fourth round of the Australian Open this year (where he beat Novak Djokovic in Round 2) and made two quarterfinal appearances in Moselle and Gstaad. Coached by his mother, the Uzbek divides his time playing both singles and doubles and has had considerable success over both disciplines. Interestingly, Istomin once survived a life-threatening car crash back in 2001 while he was travelling to a Futures event.
Path to the final
Baghdatis started the tournament with a tough match against big-serving Vasek Pospisil, taking 2 hours and 48 minutes to beat the Canadian 6-7 7-6 6-4. His second-round opponent Peter Gojowczyk had entered the draw on a special exempt, having won the title at Metz last week. Baghdatis started that match slowly before taking advantage of Gojowczyk’s fatigue to win 5-7 6-3 6-2.
Baghdatis’ quarterfinal match against Taipei’s Yen-Hsun Lu was straightforward but strange as rain ended the day’s play with the Cypriot leading 6-3 5-2 in the second set. He returned to finish that match the next day and then faced his semifinal opponent Guido Pella after about an hour’s break. Pella took the first set 7-5 but Baghdatis comfortably won the next two sets 6-4 and 6-2 despite having back troubles throughout the match. How his back will hold up for the final remains to be seen.
Istomin started off with a straight-sets victory over last week’s St Petersburg semifinalist Jan-Lennard Struff. He then beat defending champion Karen Khachanov of Russia in the second round, once again in straight sets. The Uzbek’s toughest test came in the quarterfinals against Jared Donaldson, whom he beat 2-6 7-5 7-6 in 2 hours and 30 minutes. The semifinal match against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, who has had good results on hard courts this season, also went the distance. Istomin was serving for the match at 6-5 in the second set against Sugita before the Japanese broke back and forced a tiebreak. Sugita won the tiebreak on a dominating note but went down tamely in the third set, losing 2-6 6-7 0-6.
How do they match up?
Staying relaxed most of the time during rallies, Baghdatis is one of the best fighters on the men’s tour, having won matches from vulnerable positions on numerous occasions. Baghdatis likes to construct points and then go for high-risk winners. He has an equally good forehand and backhand down-the-line and can be a very dangerous opponent for top players. Wearing stylish green glasses, Istomin is very strong from the baseline and can cover a lot of court during matches. Usually having a strong first serve percentage, the Uzbek also likes to go down-the-line a lot during his matches. Considering Baghdatis’ visible back problems this week, Istomin will be a strong favourite in this baseline battle.
Istomin looks to be in better form this week and is also much fitter of the two. Baghdatis might not even win a set in this match. Istomin to win his second ATP title in straight sets.
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