Serbian Soaring: Krajinovic Into First Final In Paris
It took 44 weeks, but the ATP World Tour has its Cinderella story of the 2017 season. Armed with an arsenal of big backhands and plenty of grit and guile, Filip Krajinovic completed an improbable run to the Rolex Paris Masters final on Saturday, edging John Isner in a deciding tie-break. Another American, Jack Sock, awaits in the championship clash.
Krajinovic entered the week in Paris with just one match win at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level, but the Serbian mounted a stunning charge to reach his first final, notching a 6-4, 6-7(2), 7-6(5) victory over Isner. At No. 77 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, he is the lowest-ranked player to contest a Masters 1000 title match since World No. 191 Andrei Pavel in Paris in 2003. He is also the first qualifier to reach a final at the elite level since Jerzy Janowicz's magical final charge in the French capital in 2012.
"The emotions are amazing," said Krajinovic. "It was a tough mental match. He was serving really well, he was playing aggressive. I knew that that's going to happen. But when I served for the match, my hand was shaking. It was tough to control the emotions, but I knew I had to stay aggressive all the way to the end. I did it and it is the best day of my life.
"But the tournament is not over yet. I'll prepare for tomorrow and then we'll see. It's just another match and I'm playing against Jack Sock. I know him from juniors. He's a great player. I think it's going to be an interesting match. So I will give everything what I have to finish the year strong."
Krajinovic, who owns an ATP Challenger Tour leading five crowns and 47 match wins this year, is making a seamless transition back to the ATP World Tour following surgery to remove an extra bone in his wrist. The Rolex Paris Masters is just his second tour-level event of the season, having streaked to the titles at the Challenger stops in Rome and Almaty, Kazakhstan, just one month ago. Having started the year at No. 234 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year in the 2017 ATP Awards presented by Moët & Chandon, he is projected to rise to at least a career-high No. 33 on Monday.
It marks the fourth time in five years that a Serbian will compete for the Paris crown, with Novak Djokovic having completed a three-peat from 2013-15. Having won six matches in eight days, Krajinovic is also the fourth qualifier to reach the championship in tournament history, joining Janowicz (2012), Radek Stepanek (2004) and Sergio Casal (1986).
A fresh Krajinovic showed no signs of rust following a quarter-final walkover over top seed Rafael Nadal (knee). He was on the front foot early and often, striking winners from both corners. With a game predicated on dogged defence and an attacking mentality, he would secure the opening break in the fifth game and reeled off 12 of 14 points to hold for 4-2.
Fewest Attempts To Reach Masters 1000 Final
||2007 Indian Wells
A labouring Isner struggled to find success in extended rallies and Krajinovic would take advantage throughout the two-hour and 28-minute affair, claiming 37 points (to Isner's 25) of five shots or more. Behind aggressive second serves, the World No. 77 exhibited great confidence as he took the opening set and did not face a break point in the second. Isner would eventually force a decider behind an efficent 7/2 tie-break, but Krajinovic would not be deterred by the swing in momentum.
The drama hit a crescendo in the third set, with Isner striking a blistering forehand to earn a break point at 4-4. But, with nerves of steel, Krajinovic claimed three straight points to edge ahead and he would storm back from 0/3 down in the deciding tie-break. A massive return at a hard-charging Isner's feet would give him his first match point at 6/5, which he would seize. With tears streaming down his face, an emotional Krajinovic fell to the court at the AccorHotels Arena, while his coach Petar Popovic ripped off his shirt and screamed in ecstasy.
In total, Krajinovic struck 43 winners, including 16 off his backhand wing, while benefiting from 20 Isner forehand unforced errors. He exacted revenge on the American nine years after their lone previous encounter at the 2008 Lubbock Challenger.
Isner stood within two victories of securing his place at the Nitto ATP Finals for the first time, but Krajinovic denied the big-serving American's place at The O2 in London. Now only Jack Sock, who will appear in Saturday's second semi-final, can overtake Pablo Carreno Busta for the final spot in the Emirates ATP Race To London. A finalist in Paris last year, World No. 14 Isner concludes his 2017 campaign with a 38-22 record and two titles (Newport, Atlanta).
"I knew he was feeling pretty good about his game and obviously gaining some confidence," Isner said of Krajinovic. "Everyone is so good on the tour. It's really a matter of who's got confidence, you know. And it's not that I didn't have confidence but he did as well. So the margins are really small.
"It's very disappointing. I had an opportunity here to do some things I've never done before, finish in something like in the Top 10 in the world. I think I have now finished 11th or 19 in the world eight consecutive years. So I mean, it's very good. It's consistent. But there's nothing better than that."