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Semifinal Saturday: Men’s Preview

Oracle Challenger Series
Nov 15, 2019

After a long day of matches Friday in which both the singles third round and quarterfinals were contested, four men are left standing as we head into the final weekend of play at Rice University. Veterans and newcomers alike will battle for a spot in Sunday’s final and a chance to end their season in the winner’s circle, so let’s take a look at the match-ups.

[3] Ivo Karlovic (CRO) vs. [6] Christopher O’Connell (AUS)

40-year-old Ivo Karlovic didn’t hold back after finishing off qualifier Alexis Galarneau for his second win of the day and a spot in Saturday’s semifinals. The 6’11” veteran turned to his team and let out a huge roar of victory – followed by a much-deserved sigh of accomplishment.

“This was not easy,” Karlovic said after the hard-fought 7-6(3), 7-6(7) victory over a competitor half his age. “I don’t remember the last time I had to do a double match in one day. But I had a goal today – I really wanted to win because with these [ranking] points I will be in the Australian Open main draw next year, and I’m really happy about that.”

Earlier in the day, the all-time ATP Tour ace leader needed three sets to take down American Sekou Bangoura for a spot in the quarterfinals. His semifinal opponent – Australian Christopher O’Connell – spent significantly less time on court on Friday, defeating Adrian Menedez-Maceiras in straight sets 7-6(3), 6-4, and spending only on 13 additional minutes on court in the quarterfinals, as Michael Mmoh retired from their match after only five games.

O’Connell is in the midst of a career-best year, having captured two ATP Challenger titles (Cordenons, Fairfield) and reached the final of two other Challengers (Knoxville, Sibiu). He sits at a career-high No. 128 and looking to end the season on a high note with a strong run here in Houston.

“It would top off my year to win a title here,” O’Connell said. “I’ve surprised myself this season honestly. For now, I’m focusing on the semis, but just two more matches…hopefully I can do it.”

The chaotic schedule the past few days has thrown O’Connell off his normal tournament routine, though it doesn’t seem to be affecting his results on court so far.

“Yesterday was tough with the waiting around,” he said, “and today was even tougher playing two matches. I know didn’t quite play two complete matches, but this morning was really tough [against Menedez-Maceiras], and I was expecting a really tough match just now. Unfortunately, Michael’s fitness wasn’t up to scratch, and fortunately for me I’m into the semifinals.”

This will be the first meeting between Karlovic and O’Connell – two players at vastly different points in their careers, but with one common goal: to finish their season off with a win and a title here in Houston.

[8] Mitchell Krueger vs. [4] Marcos Giron 

The second men’s semifinal will be an all-American match-up between No.8 seed Mitchell Krueger and No. 4 seed Marcos Giron – a pair of players who have known each other forever and grew up playing one another on the junior circuit.

“Marcos is just such a solid player,” Krueger said of his opponent. “He’s really good from the baseline, and he’s not going to give you a lot of points. You have to really earn it with him.”

The last time the duo met was on the indoor courts at Dallas earlier this year – a quarterfinal match that saw Krueger come out on top in three tough sets, and propelled him to an eventual tournament win. While the conditions will be markedly different this time around, the intensity will still be just as high.

But both players will have to overcome an unusual schedule this week that saw all play cancelled on Thursday due to inclement weather, forcing two rounds of play to Friday. Giron battled through both of his matches , needing three sets to defeat Jenson Brooksby 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the third round, as well as Jason Jung in the quarterfinals, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2. Meanwhile, Krueger captured straight set victories over Pedja Krstin 7-6(4), 6-4 and fellow American Michael Redlicki 6-4, 6-4.

“Definitely take it one match at a time,” said Krueger as to how he approached the unconventional schedule. “Going into my first match today, I wasn’t even thinking about the second one. I got lucky that I handled business and won in straight sets in my first match to conserve as much energy as possible, and thencame out firing at the beginning of the second match and rode that momentum. I was able to keep my cool a little bit even though I was starting to get a little uptight at the end and had a couple close games. I’m pumped that I pulled it out.”

Both Giron, who currently sits at a career-high No. 123 ranking, and Krueger are searching for their second Challenger Tour titles on the season and looking to end their respective seasons with a victory here in Houston.

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