Jan-Lennard Struff’s run at the Mutua Madrid Open appeared to be short-lived when he lost in the final round of qualifying last Tuesday. Nine days later, he is into his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final.
The lucky loser upset fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(5), 5-7, 6-3 to reach the last four at the Caja Magica. The German will next face Aslan Karatsev, who ousted him in qualifying.
“It feels amazing. It was a very, very hard battle. I knew before I needed to perform at my best,” Struff said in his on-court interview. “Very, very happy that I played this well today. The crowd was amazing. It was an unbelievable atmosphere and really, really happy that I won.”
Struff is the third lucky loser to advance to the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 event, joining Thomas Johansson (2004 Toronto) and Lucas Pouille (2016 Rome). He has now split six ATP Head2Head matches with Tsitsipas and is two victories from hoisting his first ATP Tour trophy. Struff knows he must refocus for his rematch with Karatsev.
“Aslan is playing amazing this week so far and he beat me pretty easily in qualies I need to say. I didn’t play the best tennis in that match, but he made me play not good I feel like,” Struff said. “I think we need to analyse it now, focus on the match tomorrow and I hope I can do better.”
It is the high point of a strong comeback for the 33-year-old. Earlier this year, Struff was as low as No. 167 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings after suffering a right foot injury last season in Miami.
Struff has leveraged his powerful game throughout the tournament in the Spanish capital and he is now up to No. 31 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. The German has lost just five service games in the main draw and dropped just one to the fourth seed.
Both players were in good form inside Manolo Santana Stadium, using their serves to take control of points and backing it up by bludgeoning groundstrokes and often coming to net on the red clay. When Struff double faulted away the first break of the match at 5-5 in the second set, it seemed the moment was potentially affecting him.
But the German had a short memory and immediately clicked back into gear. Having faced the first nine break points of the match, he earned his first break point of the match at 2-1 in the third set. The Warstein-native seized the opportunity with both hands, crushing back-to-back backhands, which his opponent was unable to handle. Struff’s down-the-line backhand proved especially useful, often putting the Greek into difficulty.
Tsitsipas entered the match with an 8-1 record in deciding sets this season and 9-2 on clay in his career, so it was no surprise that he continued to put pressure on the German, who was pursuing the biggest win of his career.
But Struff had an answer for every question the German asked, saving break point at 4-2 with huge hitting to get out of trouble after misfiring with his forehand earlier in the game. He also trailed 15/30 when serving for the match. But after Tsitsipas saved one match point with a jaw-dropping forehand passing shot, Struff won two consecutive points, completing his victory when the fourth seed missed a backhand return long.
“He was serving so good the whole match and it was so tough to get into points. But I somehow won the first set,” Struff said. “I felt like he was better in the first set. I got out of many tricky situations. He was 4/1 up in the tie-break.
“I thought I played [in] the second set a very, very good set, but I played a bad game at 5-all. And in the third set I came out aggressive again and it was a huge win for me.”
Since gaining entry into the main draw as a lucky loser, Struff has defeated Lorenzo Sonego, 32nd seed Ben Shelton, Banja Luka champion Dusan Lajovic, Pedro Cachin and Tsitsipas.
Did You Know?
Struff has earned five wins against Top 5 opponents. Two of those victories have come in the past month, having upset World No. 4 Casper Ruud en route to the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals. He now owns an 8-6 record against Top 10 players in ATP Masters 1000 events.